French kiss­ing


Five kisses! I’ve had re­la­tion­ships with less con­tact than that

No­body likes a limp hand­shake, ob­vi­ously; it’s like hold­ing wet let­tuce and gives the im­pres­sion that the limp hand­shaker has a dis­tinct am­biva­lence to­wards meet­ing you. But a hand­shake is a hand­shake; it’s ei­ther firm, or limp, or some­where hap­pily in the middle, and there­fore passes with­out de­scrip­tion. How I wish things were that sim­ple in France. I’ve now lived here al­most 25% of my life and the ‘greet­ing’ not only still has me baf­fled, but ac­tu­ally has me ner­vous to the ex­tent that I’ll some­times avoid leav­ing the house al­to­gether for fear of meet­ing peo­ple.

‘Nu­ance’ is a French word and could eas­ily have been in­vented just to de­scribe the sheer range of op­tions open to two peo­ple meet­ing in the street. Is it a kiss? If so: how many? Is it a hand­shake? A hug? A nod? Cold in­dif­fer­ence? I re­ally, even now, have no idea what­so­ever. It’s not so much ‘nu­ance’ as a pos­i­tive mine­field, and the chance of a dam­ag­ing so­cial faux pas is very real in­deed. Just when you think you’ve mas­tered it, a new rule emerges; like the French lan­guage we first moved here, a neigh­bour’s wife greeted me on the first evening by shak­ing my hand with such fe­roc­ity, I thought she was go­ing to flip me over like a car­toon wrestler. But that was noth­ing com­pared to her stare; eye con­tact is vi­tal in the hand­shake ap­proach and avoid­ing it is con­sid­ered bad man­ners. She held my gaze like an ag­gres­sive heavy­weight boxer at a weigh-in, al­most dar­ing me to rise to her chal­lenge; less warm greet­ing, more pre­lude to an arm-wres­tle.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I’m against tac­tile greet­ings, far from it, and it’s heart­en­ing to see the English be­com­ing a more touchy-feely race. Men are seen to hug in the street in the UK now and I like that; it’s a warmth we’ve pos­si­bly not been cred­ited with be­fore. Okay, at times we’re still a bit stiff and awk­ward about the whole thing, but it’s early days and we’ll get there once we’ve es­tab­lished clear ground rules for the ex­change. The French, though, have been at this kind of thing for so long they’ve ap­par­ently and – cru­cially – in­de­pen­dently, just started mak­ing up their own rules. But whereas they’re re­laxed enough as a race to laugh off any awk­ward­ness that may arise, it leaves us English flail­ing around and blush­ing like teenagers on a first date. The Euro­pean Union should take this up in my opin­ion; never mind stan­dar­d­is­ing fruit and reg­u­lat­ing car­bon emis­sions, they should set a le­gal tar­iff on kiss­ing greet­ings. Un­til then I’ll just keep fum­bling about in the dark, which was an­other greet­ing that was frowned upon. Ian Moore is a co­me­dian, writer, chut­ney-maker and mod who lives with his fam­ily in the Loire Val­ley. His lat­est book is C’est Mod­nifique!, (£8.99, Sum­mers­dale Pub­lish­ers). ian­

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