I’ve been back in New York for three weeks and I still can’t stop. Whenever I spend time in Paris, I pick up a habit that is nearly impossible to kick. No, it’s not smoking; it’s worse… it’s the double air kiss (standard Euro protocol for both hello and goodbye).
This maneuver—which generally involves touching cheeks but kissing the air near the other person’s ear—is so ingrained in my muscle memory that it has become completely involuntary to me (much to the chagrin of my American friends). I try to catch myself, but it’s always a split second too late. It happens again and again: the unsuspecting American person I’m double-kissing stands there, utterly bewildered, as on-looking friends roll their eyes and say something along the lines of, “Oh, Tory thinks she’s sooooo Euro now.” Or worse, the other person sort of tries to go with it, and we do an awkward head-dodging thing, and then inadvertently end up making out. Ooops.
I promise I am not trying to be Euro. In Paris, on fait la bise (we do the standard Parisian double-cheek kiss) every time we say hello and goodbye. If you’re entering or leaving a group, you have no choice but to go around to each person and kiss him or her individually.Depending on how many people you’re hanging out with, this can lead to upwards of 20 or 30 air kisses in a single evening. So believe me when I say: it’s a tough habit to shake.
The frustrating thing is that, by the time I do get the double kiss out of my system, I will probably be heading back to Europe where I will have to relearn to execute the motion with a natural “What? I’m Parisian” confidence. Balking at the moment of double-kiss truth is a dead giveaway that you’re not with the program, so beware.
A few quick rules:
- In small social settings, you fait la bise with everyone when you arrive. As subsequent people arrive, they will do so as well.
- In large social settings, you don’t have to circle the whole party doling out air kisses (easy, Tiger). Just prepare to do it when you greet individuals or are introduced to new people.
- In business settings, the handshake generally reigns supreme. Once you know your colleagues well, the bise may come into play. (Use your discretion).
Take note: In Paris, saying goodbye is important. You do not simply wave to the group as you sprint for a cab — known as filer à l’anglaise (British-style dashing) — nor do you pull an “Irish goodbye” (i.e. drink too much and then slip out the back door). Closure is a key element of proper etiquette, and there is a protocol (more air kissing!).
Once you get used to it, la bise is actually quite a pleasure. It’s fun, and it’s so institutionalized that you rarely have to deal with the awkward, “I sort of know that person… should I say hi?” The answer is yes; you should say hi. And you should kiss them and be friends, and everything will be lovely and oh-so-French. On that note, I don’t think I should be trying to kick this habit at all, even if it is geographically inappropriate. After all, Paris isn’t a place—it’s a state of mind.
- Funny video (in French) about La Bise for foreigners
- Hysterical post on La Bise when you are sick on Je ne sais quoi
- More on French Bise etiquette from an American
- Funny Bise Comments from an EnglishPerspective
- Beware the Bise – Kissing Faux Pas