In France when you see someone you know you go and kiss once on each of their cheeks. This whole concept is super foreign to me. I’ve been trying to become less and less awkward when I do it… but I still find it confusing.
What I’ve realized: two women will always do the greeting, a man and a woman will always do the greeting, and two men… it gets complicated. If the men don’t know each other well, they will shake hands. If they know each other well they will do the gesture… but where do you draw the line? I sure don’t know.
Now if you’re sitting down and someone comes to do the gesture, are you supposed to stand up, do it, and sit back down again? or stay sitting and have them bend down… I’ve seen both. I usually stand up.
If you’re having a conversation with someone, and they initiate the gesture, do you continue talking in between the two cheek kisses? or do you stop talking, do the gesture, then resume conversation? I usually just keep talking, but I feel awkward doing that.
When I meet friends of my host family, I never know if they are going to shake my hand or do the gesture… While I technically don’t know them, they are close friends to my host family which I am effectively part of the family so often then end up doing the gesture with me even though I’m not expecting it.
If someone arrives to a circle of people, and they’re doing the gesture with one person in the circle, they will continue to do the gesture to everyone in the circle, because it would be rude to leave someone out. So even if I don’t know the person who shows up to my circle of friend… I’m now kissing their cheeks.
So why do the French do it? The gesture illustrates a kind way to appreciate someone’s presence. They don’t like the idea of hugs because they are too intimate… you’re rubbing your body up in someone else’s space. With this gesture you keep your body far away from one another (or if you have a close relationship they may but a hand on someone’s upper arm) and just touch cheeks. From an american perspective it’s awkward to touch cheeks, but from a French perspective you are only touching cheeks and nothing else.