Lost In Limoges

From the sheep-dotted pastures of France's underpopulated Southwest, Limoges rises in all its grey glory. The city's claim to fame: fine porcelain. The half-timbered houses of the Medieval center are surrounded by strip malls and McDo. Land-hungry Brits descend with flailing pocketbooks (thanks, RyanAir). The weather is remarkably cool year-round. Sure, I live on rue de Nice, but this is NOT the Cote d'Azur. Welcome to Limoges, "the middle of nowhere"-- or as Pierre says "everywhere"-- France.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

French Kissing

By far the oddest French custom for me to learn is the kissing ritual. I don't mean the deeply passionate kiss depicted by Rodin in the photo. I mean the cheek to cheek (to cheek to cheek) greeting, and all of its pomp and circumstance.

I used to dread going to Pierre's uncle's house-- not because I don't like his cousins, quite the contrary, I adore them-- but because of the kisses anticipated at the front door in greeting. I used to delay it as long as possible, playing with the cute sheep dogs, watching the sheep in the pasture or the lambs in the barn. But the time inevitably came when we would be ushered inside and expected to kiss everyone in the room. And sometimes it would be quite a gathering: ten to fifteen family members seated at the table for coffee, and we would make the rounds, heads bobbing, hair falling in our faces, lips pursed, mouths making lip-smacking sounds in the air. Quite the time-taking spectacle. But the worst part about it was determining exactly how many kisses was expected by each family member. When you didn't get it right-- god forbid!-- a serious faux pas could result, where heads were awkwardly bobbing, cheeks thrust forward expectantly, or the worst yet: a foot lunging forward and a stumble.
Now I've learned: 3 each for Aurelie, Damien, Colette, and Fabienne, 1 for Christian (and he always does me the courtesy of saying "Un" before we kiss), 4 for Michelle, Jacques, Manu, Paul and Marie.

At the wedding last weekend, it seemed the guests were really into slow, methodical kissing: 4 very theatrical kisses were expected from the bride and groom and their audience. Yet when we left the Perigord on Sunday morning, and kissed about twenty of our hung-over friends, I seemed to forget this fact and think 2 were necessary. One girl was left awkwardly standing with her cheek offered towards me, lips puckered, waiting for the final 2 kisses. And worse than that: I brushed noses with a tall gentlemen when moving my face across his for the second kiss. Ooops. Or: Oooo-la-la (as the French sports commentators always seem to say when the goal is missed)

And what is the proper etiquette when I meet Pierre's work colleagues? Heaven help me. What happened to the good old fashioned, professional hand-shake? At a work party last week, I kissed some and not others and managed to really alienate the lot of them.


  • At 12:20 AM, Anonymous paul said…

    don t worry MW, i dont care !! for me two is enougth!! but you can kiss as much you want! it s always a real pleasure ;)

  • At 4:04 PM, Anonymous Marie said…

    What a wonderful article !! So true... !
    But don't worry ! Even if you are french, you never know how many kisses wants the other one !
    It depends of the region of France... Deux-sèvres : one, Angers : two.
    But beware ! That is not so easy ! It also depends of the day : every common day in La Chapelle : one kiss, party day : not less of two...
    Hey hey ! Welcome in France !!!

  • At 3:11 AM, Blogger Tony said…

    Fascinating blog entry. I've never even thought of that. I guess Americans really like to keep their distance.


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