Faire la Bise: An American Nightmare

I just took a bite out of the lovely nose of a very attractive acquaintance. No, this was not a victory, a spontaneous and aggressive flirtation. This was a bise failure.

Widely mocked in American pop culture, the bise, or cheek-kiss, is real. Any French person, upon meeting stranger or friend, will bump cheeks and make kissing noises, though the number of times varies by region (thankfully it’s only twice in Lyon). Arriving at a small party, you might find yourself weaving among all the guests to make sure you greet them personally and touch their face with your face, even during flu season. And guess what: you usually get to do it again at the END of the party!

The American way of greeting people is a wave or a handshake (and sometimes a hug); I doubt that the bise feels natural or pleasant to many of us, no matter how cute it is when the French do it. Given that I’m so awkward that most of the time I feel like an alien operating a very complicated machine (my body) from a locked pod somewhere inside my skull, foreign physical gestures like this cause total system meltdown.

Leaving a gathering of Frenchies tonight, I made a fatal mistake as I turned to faire la bise with the last guy, a gentleman with rather nice eyes: I went for the wrong cheek and his nose ended up in my mouth. It was like two middle schoolers playing spin the bottle and immediately sunk me to new depths of self-loathing. It’s a good thing no one’s ever asked me to go undercover as a Frenchwoman, because I would immediately blow it.

Don’t let Merkel fool you; she hates this, too.

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