Thursday, October 06, 2011

Bad at bises, part two

I wrote a part one about the French custom of kissing (or air-kissing) ages ago when I lived in Nice, I think. So has probably every other blogger who's ever moved to France. But I think most of them only cover the potential awkwardness that entails when interacting with the French (from "they thought I was rude when I didn't kiss all 20 strangers at the dinner table" to "I hate kissing my colleagues when they roll into work sweating from their bike ride". That last one is true). I don't think I've seen anyone cover the potential for awkwardness when encountering another expat in the wild.

In New Zealand, as I probably said last time, we don't tend to kiss. We may hug people we're close friends with (or who are that particular kind of huggy girl, you know the type). We may handshake in professional settings (and even then, there's plenty of scope for awkwardness, especially as a woman - I would handshake at an interview with no problems, but feel a bit weird shaking the hand of a new colleague or someone from the other department down the hall who I've never met before). If you're the type of person who has "bros", then you can give them a sort of reverse nod, where you tip your head upwards rather than downwards, accompanied with an eyebrow raise. But mostly we just bob about in a sea of awkward. Popular awkward gestures include waving at the person who is stood right in front of you, or just doing the sort of awkward "I'm acknowledging your presence" shuffle. English people seem to be just as bad at this part of thing, while Americans I think do slightly better, being that they seem a bit more disposed to hug - but I'm sure they, too, must frequently run into people where a hug would be inappropriate.

Being in the land of the bisou throws a spanner into the works. It certainly can reduce awkwardness muchly - I have expat friends here that I kiss, we all know that's what we do upon greeting and farewelling each other, and the system works marvellously. But if you meet an expat stranger, the question se pose - do I kiss this girl/guy, who I wouldn't dream of kissing back home, or not? The other week I positively lunged at an English guy who responded with something of a panicked look. Which stopped me mid-lunge."Oh, so um, no bise?" I said. This led to him having to both kiss me and have an awkward conversation about the awkward situation of not knowing the protocol for expat-bisous.

So, dear readers, do you do the bise with your expat friends? What about when you meet an expat for the first time? Awkward, or not so much?


  1. Kiss 'em all and let God sort it out!

    That's my motto!

    All the best


  2. I've noticed even the English and Kiwis are more prone to touch these days! That is, shake hands, or even hug - but I think kissing is still mostly considered a step too far.

  3. I've not become prone to either. In fact I'd rather deliver a Liverpool Kiss than a bisou!

  4. Guy who tastes of garlic! Are you sure you should be kissing everyone?!? :-)


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