Maybe It Starts With The Kissing

I spend a lot of time observing French people.  People on family outings, couples, friends in pairs or groups, children, parents, grandparents, laborers, homeless people.  People walking their dogs, driving their cars, riding their bikes or scooters, watching sports, playing games, eating, drinking wine, coffee, or tea.  Sometimes they gossip, tell jokes, argue or boast.  But when they encounter friends, neighbors, or family, there’s one greeting ritual for which the French are famous…kissing.  That’s right, at least a smooch on each cheek.  Sometimes more.  If there’s intimacy between them, this is followed by a peck on the lips in addition.  I’m told in Paris, it’s three cheek-kisses, but they rarely make actual contact.  Here, in Limoux, contact is expected and returned. 

When a person encounters a group at a public place as in a café, he or she may kiss those people known to them and shake hands with the person they haven’t met or with whom they have a more formal acquaintance.  I just returned from a rugby match where a few hundred people in this small town went to enjoy the warm, sunny day, and urge “their boys” to victory.  I saw one young man enter and kiss no fewer than four lovely young women, skip a couple he didn’t know, and kiss the next three.  Worth the price of admission even if he left before seeing any rugby action. 

If you are a dedicated reader of this blog, you know I rarely insert any analysis of what I encounter, but please allow me this departure from the norm to tell you what I think all this kissing produces.  Again, I have no data other than my own observation.   At the rugby match I mentioned earlier, and others I have attended, I have never seen any fan violence, and detect no swearing at the refs, the players, or other spectators.  I have rarely heard a car’s horn being used.  Further, I notice a tremendous amount of courtesy being used all over France.  I see mothers doting on their children much as I’ve seen in the US, but also fathers being gentle, and nurturing with their kids as well.  A big difference is the amount of physical contact parents and children seem to have.  Teenage girls frequently walk arm in arm with their mothers.  Older family members, and friends of the family, even neighbors will tousle a child’s hair affectionately.  Young men meeting their buddies at a sporting event bar, or café, will often exchange cheek-kisses. 

People here seem more patient, gentler, and genuinely concerned when someone is struggling.  Many times, I have seen an older person having difficulty with their shopping bags, or car, receive assistance from passersby.  Even the street-people, the homeless vagabonds, winos, and druggies, seem to be treated decently.  A man I see almost every day who is obviously medicated and almost always talking non-stop to himself is given little chores at a café.  He sometimes runs errands, or sweeps the sidewalk outside the café.  How he is compensated, I do not know, but people just seem to take his patter as part of the scene, and pay him little attention.

At the B&B where we worked for about eleven days, a guest named Francoise burst into the dining-room each morning bubbling-over with warm greetings for all and kisses for all the people at her table.  I was one of the people at her table, and realized this is a very nice way to start a day, a conversation, or just about anything. 

I realize I have only a very small sample of random encounters from which to choose, but I sense a pattern at work here.  Of course France has its share of mean people, abusive spouses and parents, and some bad actors.  Realistically, there are plenty of dark secrets behind closed-doors.  But there doesn’t appear to be much public aggression, and anti-social behavior.  My own experience suggests this kissing-thing is a good thing.  I will miss it when we return to the States.

you observations are shared by us as well. our experiences in italy and more so in spain suggest that kissing more than the water is responsible for what appears to be a much closer society. we have tried it here but my bussing you on the cheek would get me red-carded. kissung signe however is always a joyful encounter.

when you return, i suggest bringing some of these customs, these day to day practices which give you so much joy, home with you. some of us would relish more bon hommie (terribly misspelled) and less standoffishness.

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