Over 18.000 votes have been cast in a poll to determine once and for all the answer to the burning question: Combien de bises? That’s French for ‘How many kisses’, and kissing in France is a lot more complex the French’s somewhat overstated reputation for carefree libidinosity implies.
Unlike more reserved nationalities, the French greet each other with kisses on the cheek – but the practice varies to the point where one risks l’embarras social when the kisser has another number of pecks on the cheek in mind than the kissee. Suppose, for a moment, that you intend to give three kisses and the other person turns away after two. Ah, the humilitation!
This must have happened a few times to Gilles Debunne, because earlier in 2007 he set up a website to resolve the French kissing conundrum once and for all. Debunne asked his compatriotes to send in how many kisses were the rule in their particular département. The number, which varies from one to four (five is too much, even for the French), shows an interesting regional variability.
- One kiss is the preferred option in only two départements: Finistère at the western tip of Brittany and Deux-Sèvres in the Poitou-Charentes region.
- Elsewhere in Poitou-Charentes, three kisses are preferred: in the departments of Vienne and Charente. The largest block of three-kiss-départements is located in the southeast. Trois bises are the thing to do in Ardèche, Aveyron, Cantal, Drôme, Haute Loire, Hautes Alpes, Hérault, Gard, Lozère and Vaucluse.
- Four kisses are de rigueur in a large region in northeastern France. Apart from the isolated coastal département of Pas de Calais, this is a contiguous area, consisting of 22 départements from Normandy to the Belgian border: Ardennes, Aube, Calvados, Eure, Eure et Loire, Haute Marne, Indre, Indre et Loire, Loire et Cher, Loire Atlantique, Loiret, Maine et Loire, Manche, Marne, Mayenne, Orne, Sarthe, Seine et Marne, Seine-St-Denis, Val d’Oise, Vendée and Yonne.
- The rest of the country is two-kisses territory, apart from the same département in northeast Paris that stood out by turning Royal red amidst a sea of Sarkozy blue in the first round of the French presidential elections earlier this year (see entry #108).
Not visualised in this map is the confusion within the départements. Apparently, the quatre bises won out only just in Pas de Calais, narrowly defeating the almost 50% who said they preferred just deux. What happens when representatives of the former group meet someone from the latter one? A faux Pas de Calais? And that’s not even taking into account the class and age distinctions that may play a role in how many kisses are required – or even whether they are expected at all.
“If you are invited to a dinner party with people you don’t know, you’ll shake their hands when you arrive. At the end of the evening, you might kiss them but it’s probably better to hold out your hand and see what happens,” says Constance Rietzler, director of La Belle École in Paris, offering courses in art and hopefully also joie de vivre, and quoted in this article in The Times on Mr Debunne’s website.
The map was sent in by Romke Soldaat of the website Frogsmoke, which asks the question: “What makes France such an endearing and infuriating country at the same time? Why are the French a people that you love one day and hate the next?” And gives some pretty funny answers. Well worth a read.