Bises and Baguettes by Taylor Pool

No matter how long I am in France, I will still never understand the bises (the side cheek kissing thing). However, that’s okay, because neither do the French.

Who do you bise? How many bises do you do (It’s three in Avignon!)? When do you bise? There have been magazine articles and even doctorate theses written on the subject and still, no one can come up with a concrete explanation. So, here’s mine:

Who do you bise? Answer: French students when you meet them for the first time, your host mom when you meet her for the first time and the semi-strange little old man who comes over to your house for dinner one night. Yep, him too.

How many bises do you do? I learned in my culture class that it all depends on where you live, your social status and your demographics. For example, it is two bises in Paris (left, right) and three bises in Provence, the area in the south of France where I’m living (left, right, left). Phew, one part of this interesting equation has been determined. I think that deserves a toast! Just remember to make eye contact with everyone you “tchin-tchin” your glass. That one you can look up on your own.

When do you bise? Well, that one just depends (Thanks, Madame Culture Professor. You’re so helpful.) I’ve learned from my endless hours of people-watching that you bise first thing when you see your friend and again when you say bye. This means that when encountering a group of your friends, it’s absolutely imperative that you bise each one three times. I wonder how much time is spent on only bises during a lifetime in France? Oh the French, such a strange sense of time.

One culture norm in France that I am more than okay with is the time it takes to eat dinner at a restaurant. You might be there for over three hours. Don’t plan on being home to watch the soccer game! The French are very adamant about their eating habits. They start out with a bit of wine, eat some bread, eat an appetizer like a salad or soup, eat more bread, continue with the main course, then it’s time for cheese and bread and finally, dessert. The French stomach and metabolism are really quite amazing.

One more thing. Whoever decided that fresh baguettes the length of my entire arm should only cost 50 cents was an absolute genius.


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