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.
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.