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The French custom of cheek-kissing

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The French custom of cheek-kissing

Post Neon Knight on Fri 5 Jan - 0:01

https://www.thelocal.fr/20171108/whats-in-a-kiss-the-story-of-the-french-bise

This tradition, which normally involves planting an air kiss on each cheek (sometimes up to four times depending on where in France you are) while making a kissing noise has been the subject of so many conversations and articles and viral YouTube videos. That's partly because it can be a deceptively mind-boggling custom for foreigners to get their heads (or cheeks) around. But where does the tradition actually come from? . .

It was the Romans who popularised this (for some) pesky tradition, spreading it throughout Europe and North Africa as their empire grew. They had several words to describe the act of kissing, including saevium for a loving kiss and osculum for a friendly or religious kiss. But it's basium, used for a kiss signifying courtesy or politeness, which is at the root of today's "la bise", according to French author Xavier Fauche, who has written a book on the subject.

However while the responsibility might rest with the Romans, "la bise" certainly hasn't remained a stalwart of French culture since then. In fact, during the 14th century people stopped doing it altogether as a result of the plague and it didn't make a reappearance until after the First World War. Apparently it was the bourgeoisie who were most resistant to "la bise" because they believed it to be common, an opinion which lasted well into the mid-20th century.

But today all French people have welcomed "la bise" with open arms . . .

While the Romans might be to blame for starting the whole cheek kissing custom off and the French love of human contact can explain why it persists, how do we explain why the number of "bises" differs depending on where you are in France (see map below) ?



"I don't think we can know why we do so many kisses in one place and a different number in another," said Picard [Dominique, an author on social behaviour]. "Traditions are sometimes different from village to village. They are rooted in regional cultures, and what this proves is that it is a very old phenomenon," Picard added. Others have speculated that the difference is due to those in some regions believing that two kisses, as is commonly given in Paris, is a somewhat cold greeting. In an attempt to distance themselves from those in the capital and make their part of the country feel warmer they have pushed for four kisses. This however is just one theory.

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