The issues of whom to kiss, when to kiss and how to kiss in France are a potential social minefield. Here are some tips.
a) Whom: French children always present themselves to guests (male and female) to be kissed. This is regarded as quite natural, although it’s something you’d be arrested for in England. My husband has never been able to get his head round this and always tries to shake hands with them, much to their bafflement.
If meeting someone for the first time, always shake hands, even if it’s a woman. It’s acceptable to kiss them at the end of a social evening if you have met them for the first time that evening. Never try to kiss female shopkeepers, gendarmes or civil servants. Frenchmen sometimes kiss each other, but only if they are very good friends of long standing – if you are a man, don’t try it.
b) When: if you are on kissing terms, greeting and valedictory kisses are expected whether you meet someone in the street or at a social event. Some French office workers kiss each other (or shake hands if they’re men) on arriving at the office, on returning to the office after lunch and on going home in the evening.
c) How: the hardest of all. The standard number of times is twice – once on each cheek. In certain parts of France, however, such as the Aveyron, they insist on three. In that case, which cheek should you start with? Not an easy one to call – best to wait to see which one is proffered first. The Parisians, who have to be different, do it four times. This can make the beginning and end of social events a very long drawn-out affair and probably explains why nothing in France ever starts on time.
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