My dear (imaginary) friend Daphne has written again, she's having trouble with the whole kissing thing in France - forgive me if you've already read my ideas on this one, the girl has got herself in a fix, and needs my help!
I just received your letter; I'm so sorry to hear that you're having trouble with the natives! Settling in France isn't really that difficult, you just need a guiding hand. When I came here twenty something years ago, I made all sorts of faux pas, but I was young, carefree and blissfully unaware. Today, you and I are of an age where we can no longer feign ignorance.
Your incident with the bank manager sounds frightful, the poor man must have wondered what was happening, I don't suppose a new client has ever kissed him before! No wonder his assistant looked so disapproving, but you're right she could have been nicer about it. Her sniggering was entirely uncalled for. If I'd been there I would have Oh-mon-Dieued right back to her too.
Anyway, just put it all behind you now. I've put together a few rules to follow about kissing in France – faire la bise. Stick to these old girl and you should be pretty safe,
1. Proper grown ups (like you and me my dear ) shake hands when they meet. If you're at a social event and you get on well with someone you meet, say a nice young chap at a dinner, or a girl you think you could be friends with, then you will probably kiss - faire la bise - when you say goodbye.
2. Whenever you bump into a friend you give them a kiss. But if you meet the same friend a second or third time in the same day, you don't have to kiss them again, one kiss/day is enough, even for the French.
3 PLease darling , whatever you do, don't hug. A hug is very anglo-saxon, we like to show the depth of our feelings, show how much we care. The bise has nothing to do with affection., and the French don't like to show that they care (which doesn't mean they don't care, they just show it more discreetly).The bise, or kiss, is never warm, and certainly - Dieu forbid ! - not wet. Cheeks barely touch, a hand may be placed on a shoulder, but even that's not obligatory.
4. If you're with polite children , they will say bonjour madame to you, and expect you to lean down and give them a tiny kiss.
5. Whatever you do dear girl, please don't start giving 4 kisses, this is a social class thing, and believe me, you don't want to get it wrong. Two will do!!
6. Finally ... please promise me that you will never (again) kiss your bank manager, your child's headmistress, the postman or the village priest!
Keep me in touch with how it's all going, I'm always happy to help out.