I Kissed Miss France! Or: How to Faire la Bise on the Baby Birthday Circuit

I kissed Miss France 2006 this last weekend. You read me right. I did it. I admit it. And you know what else? You can even go ahead and tell my wife! She won’t care. She was there, witnessed the whole thing, and you know what? She even kissed her too!

… on the cheeks, that is…

What a let down. I know, right? I guess that’s why they call it clickbait.

Anyway, as you probably know, in France it’s customary to give greetings and goodbyes with a kiss on either side of the cheek. It doesn’t matter if it’s two ladies, two dudes or a lady and a dude. Everyone pretty much does this. In some regions, this custom varies and you might kiss two, three or even four times, alternating cheeks each time. Around Paris, the most common is to slap a swift kiss, or bise, on either cheek.

This is what it means to faire la bise.

Even after years of living in Morocco, a place where greetings are also commonly given with a bise (or bousa, in Moroccan Arabic if you’re curious), as an American, a culture of cold distances and firm handshakes, I’m always a little unsure how to do faire la bise when I’m meeting a person for the first time. This leads to a pretty awkward moment and usually it’s with another dude.

You see, though it is really common for men who are friends to faire la bise, when you are meeting another man the first time, a handshake is often offered as well as a cheek. This puts you in an awkward situation where you have to ask yourself the question: Do I shake or kiss?

I usually just say something like “Je fais la bise” and quickly dive in to greet the offered stubbly cheek.

The other day, I did some digging around and luckily, it’s not just me that’s needs a little societal guidance as to when and where to kiss. It turns out, this is an ongoing topic of French culture. Ever wary of making a social faux pas (after all, they invented the term), the French have websites and magazine columns dedicated to good manners, or les bonnes manieres, and it turns out when and where to kiss is one of the most frequently asked questions!

This last weekend we were invited to our neighbors’ apartment to celebrate their daughter’s first birthday. This is where we met Miss France 2006, though neither my wife or I (or it turns out, many people at the party) knew who she was at the time. Her slender figure sort of wallflowered into the background as the kids all commenced running around or, if they were Zef’s age, just sitting on the carpet, slamming plastic toys against each other and chewing on cardboard books. I stood there trying to converse with some of the other guys about things in the neighborhood – the price of groceries, how to get on the local tennis courts, making vague plans to check out Escape Room – these sorts of things while my wife zoomed around with her camera snapping photos.

Side note: This week, these are almost all her photos. Give credit where credit is due, right?

Somehow, we are now on what my friend dubs, “The Baby Birthday Circuit.” Stretching out into our future are more of these sorts of get-togethers where adults gather around a homemade cake or stack of muffins, sip on juices or the occasional glass of champagne, toast the poopy-diapered little one who won’t have a single memory of this day, all the while keeping a nervous eye out for their own kid in the vein hope that he or she won’t embarrass with faux pas, like screaming too loud or smashing an unsuspecting 14 month-old in the face with a Tegu Block.

Needless to say, as we make our rounds on The Baby Birthday Circuit, meeting minor celebrities we don’t know, we will be fully immersing Zef in when and where to faire la bise. Luckily, at his age, it’s simple – everybody kisses the baby on the cheeks and, in return, if the kisser is lucky, the baby plants a big, wet, slobbery one on them.

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