He’s lived across the Channel for a quarter of his life, but is still baffled by the etiquette that surrounds greeting people in France
itself, the more you think you know, the more contradictions and caveats emerge to beat your confidence over the head with a broomstick.
The number of kisses is, I’ve confidently been told, a regional thing with the southern centre of France going for what I would call the traditional ‘one on each cheek’ approach while the north and northern centre prefer a positively effusive, time-consuming and frankly, at this time of year, germ-laden four. Of course, it’s not as simple as that; and, as far as I can tell, people just make it up as they go along. Some even go with five. Five! I’ve had relationships with less contact than that.
And certainly, in my case, the locals change the rules on each meeting just to keep me guessing. One lady, the mother of a child in my eldest son’s class, once complained that I should be kissing her twice on each cheek, yet the next time effectively fought me off like an unwanted attacker when I tried to do exactly that! Too few it seems and you’re considered impolite, too many and you’re practically a sex pest.
The handshake, which should in theory be safer ground, is no less fraught I find. When