John Lichfield: When a kiss is not just a kiss

Paris Notebook: The bise, and the handshake, are hard-wired into the French psyche

Share
Related Topics

France is, thankfully, a country where customs die hard. A semi-official campaign to stamp out the "bise", or friendly kiss on the cheek, has been mounted by doctors, schools, businesses and other busy-bodies, such as the mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoe. The
bise, even the handshake, they suggest, is a deadly conduit of swine flu, or "Grippe A", as the French insist on calling it. The advice has been almost universally ignored.

I met my very correct, elegant, 80-something neighbour, Mme D the other day. She immediately exchanged " bises" with my 11-year-old daughter, Grace. Was she not scared of spreading Grippe A? "My husband was a doctor," she said. "I spent years with him in hospital wards in Africa. I am still here. I'm not going to stop kissing people because there is a little bug going around."

The bise, and the handshake, are hard-wired into the French psyche. I was once introduced to a violent, muti-racial gang of suburban 15 year olds. They queued elaborately to shake hands with me. For foreigners, the " bise" can be a nightmare. How many kisses do you give? My older daughter Clare says that the code is "two for chic Parisians, three for beaufs (chavs) four for ploucs (yokels), and one for the English." In truth, there are many more social, regional and generational variations. I invariably get the count wrong and find myself taking my cheek away too soon, or worse, trying to kiss mid-air.

So helpful, the French

There are some Parisians who strive to defy tradition, whether you like it or not. My wife was walking home the other day when she was hailed by an elegant, but eccentric-looking old lady sitting on a bench.

"Do you speak English?" she asked in French. "This man requires assistance." She indicated a middle-aged American sitting next to her, peering at a map.

"Can I help you?" Margaret asked. "No," said the American. "I was just sitting here waiting for my ride and looking at my map and she decided to get involved." "OK," said Margaret and walked on. "But thanks anyway," shouted the American.

Monster mash

I achieved a record potato harvest in my garden in Normandy this summer by the drastic method of digging up part of the lawn. The variety that I use is a delicious, long, oval spud called "Amandine." I was delighted to see that two gardeners in Sainghin-en-Weppes in northern France have claimed a new world record for the longest potato chip ever cooked. The mega-frite was 24.5 centimetres long (about nine and a half inches). The potato variety was Amandine.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Account Executive/Sales Consultant – Permanent – Hertfordshire - £16-£20k

£16500 - £20000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

KS2 PPA Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Worthing!

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: KS2 PPA Teacher currently nee...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The BBC headquarters at New Broadcasting House is illuminated at night in London, England.  

We can no longer justify paying the license fee when the BBC wastes so much money on expenses

Mira Bar Hillel
Meg Ryan faking an orgasm as Sally in 1989's When Harry Met Sally  

The power of the female orgasm — why women should always come first

Sophie Holloway
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits