The French Kiss And Other Things You Always Wanted To Know 5 Things About France

For centuries, the French have fascinated visitors and arm-chair admirers around the world. The way they dressed, the way they ate, the way they lived…few other peoples have generated as much admiration, curiosity, misconceptions and misunderstandings as the French, and for visitors who may be wondering about some of the things they might encounter, here are are few things you might want to know!

1. Why do the French kiss all the time and how do I do it?

No, this is not about the one with all the tongue! In France, it is customary to greet friends and relatives with a light kiss on the cheeks. Known as la bisse, it is seen as a normal and completely unsexual act, despite continuous Anglo-Saxon fascination with it. As a visitor to France, you may not have the opportunity to faire la bisse, but if you ever do, just remember:

Women can kiss both women and men;

Men kiss only women or men they are fairly close to;

A quick peck on the cheek is usually safer than a firm planting of lips;

Its you’re choice which cheek to kiss first, but most people start on the right;

The eldest or most senior person usually initiates the ritual;

The number of times you kiss depends on the region, but two is most common in Paris;

And if any of this feels at all uncomfortable, a firm handshake will do!

Incidentally, noone really knows where the term French kiss came from, though it has been in use since at least the 1920’s. Like many similar English terms however, it can probably be attributed to the English penchant for associating all things naughty (i.e., French letters, French postcards) with their cousins across the Channel.

2. Are the French waiters really as rude as people say they are?

In a word, no — it’s just that having a meal in a restaurant is usually the first situation when the differences between French culture and everyone else’s becomes clear. The most common complaint is that French waiters are not attentive: you have to call them over in order to get service. Many people say this is because French waiters do not receive tips as a service charge is included, and so don’t feel required to hover every table. This is some truth to that, but there is also more to it than that.

In France, a meal is traditionally considered a social event, often taking several hours. Having a waiter constantly interrupting is considered rude and gauche and so for the French, it is perfectly acceptable for the waiters to hang back until their services are called for, an approach which often annoys visitors more used to American-style attention at the dining table. Basically, while the diner is fuming at what he thinks is a lack of attention, the waiter thinks he’s being polite and correct and can’t imagine what the fuss is all about. In this case, crossed cultural perceptions leads to both parties feeling a little put out. Of course, when it’s 30 degrees outside in August and the waiter is still working while the rest of the country is on vacation, it may also just be sour grapes.