It’s only natural to feel a little embarrassed when someone points out a mistake you’ve been making. Whether it’s an error you’ve been making at work or in your personal life, you can’t help but get a little red-faced. But something as simple as French cheek kisses? How hard can they be? Well, they’re more complicated than they seem. For the past 4 years or so, I thought I was doing a pretty OK job when it came to cheek kisses. I did my best to lean in, tap both cheeks, and I even made the little sound. But after a routine bise last night with someone at the gym, I was politely told my bisous technique was off. Ouch.
Schooled on my bisous technique
I think the whole concept of bisous is a pain the butt. Truth be told, I’d rather hug. This video pretty much sums up a foreigner’s frustration with this quintessential French greeting — and I wholeheartedly relate. But when in France, you do like the French so I’ve done my best to faire la bise just like the rest of ’em. My close circle of bisous-receiving people extends to my in-laws, niece and nephew, and three people I know from the gym. That’s it. I’m comfortable with that number and thought I was nailing it every time!
Of that group, I was pretty proud of myself for having these three gym people (one of whom is an employee) who I cheek-kiss with. We started doing the bise after a year of faithfully seeing each other in the weight room. They were more than just strangers at this point and I thought my technique was just as good as anyone else’s. We’re talking about cheek kisses here and not rocket science. But, oh, how wrong I was.
One of the gym employees who’s about the same age as me told me after our obligatory bise last night that apparently mine are not positioned right and the part of the face that touches when I do it is too close to the ear. Ah, bon? T’es serieux? He was. I wanted to disappear and take my red face with me.
He was very nice about it but I couldn’t help but feel mortified. He explained my timing was good, my little sound was good too but the position was off. He told me that the part of the cheek that needs to make contact is a bit closer to the mouth. I wasn’t bisous-ing anyone’s ear, to be clear, and I really didn’t think my technique was off but I guess I do reach in a little too much making the positioning fall a little further up the face than what is “normal.” Oh man, my face started to sweat just hearing about my faux pas. I really hope he’s the only one who noticed this.
I took in what he had to say, was grateful for the tips, and will do a better job going forward. I’ll see him tonight and hopefully will get it right.
Then, I gave him some context explaining why my bisous technique might be off:
- I’m not French and didn’t grow up learning the technique. Kids that can barely walk already know how to faire la bise. It’s engrained in French culture from Day 1.
- I don’t faire la bise with many people. As I mentioned above, my circle of bisous trust is very small so I don’t have much practice (and didn’t really think I needed any). In this case, I guess practice does make perfect.
- I wear glasses and I hate having to readjust them after a hard bise (my father-in-law does more of a face smack thing that always leaves me readjusting my glasses). Picky and weird, I know, but I’m sure I subconsciously position myself in a way as to not move my glasses around too much.
- It feels weirdly intimate. People say hugs feel intimate but if you just do a quick one-armed hug and just bend at the waist (keeping space in between the two bodies), it’s way less intimate than a cheek kiss! My other bise hangup is if you get too close to the mouth of the other person (move in too fast or go for the wrong side), you may accidentally kiss someone. OK, irrational fear but seriously touching your face to someone else’s can be a major invasion of personal space. You can feel them breathe and know what kind of gum they’re chewing. Instinctively maybe I lean in a little further to keep the bise closer to the ear (and also because with a hug, we naturally step into the motion) and away from the mouth to prevent accidental kisses. Maybe my way feels less intimate. I don’t know.
So my tip? Just lean forward, offer your cheek and wait for the French person to tap your cheek and make contact. That way they’re in control of the placement. 😉
OK, going to leave it there. Have a wonderful weekend. I’m off to practice bisous with Dagny.