Saturday, July 25, 2009
Is a Kiss Just a Kiss?
My husband goes to work each morning and kisses several women. This isn’t because we have an open relationship, but because he is French, and when you work in a French office, this is what you do. You don’t just hunker down and work, first you do the rounds and say hello to everyone, and if you are male and they are female, you do the bise or kiss each other on the cheek 2, 3, or 4 times, depending on what region you are in. If it’s a guy you shake hands. If you are female, you are out of luck, you have to kiss everyone. There are ways of avoiding this, of course, you can rush in and sort of wave and just kiss the people you work with who sit near you.
I’m a freelancer, and at the moment I work at an international organization, so I rarely have to deal with kissing people in work situations. I’ve often thought, however, that there’s a lot to be said for this custom. I’ve wondered what it would be like if people in offices in New York were required to kiss each other every morning. I daresay, things would be different. Instead of gritting ones teeth and plowing through the office to one’s desk, one would have to interact with one’s co-workers. One would have to be cordial, at least for a brief moment. You can’t possibly kiss someone with grit teeth. One would have to say at least “hey, how are ya?” before one got down to the mean business of doing business.
A little while after the requisite bonjours, kisses, and handshaking are done, there is the morning coffee break. This is when everyone gathers around the coffee machine and there are more, at least superficially cordial interactions. I’ve never seen a study done correlating productivity with cordial coffee breaks, but something tells me this is not a bad thing.
The bise happens under all sorts of non-work circumstances too, particularly social occasions. This can be daunting, particularly if you are invited to a get together where you don’t know many people. You may find yourself going around a room serial kissing dozens of strangers. The same is required when leaving said get together, which can get tricky when everyone is leaving at the same time. I remember watching in amazement one evening after I first moved here, as a group of about a half a dozen people on a street huddled in a circle and started kissing each other goodbye. As I watched their heads bobbing about I wondered how they managed not to clonk craniums.
Now try to imagine such a kissy country facing up to the challenge of swine flu. According to the papers here, we are all going to die come October. Or at least get the flu. We are not supposed to sneeze in public or shake hands, and the bise is off limits. So far, I have not seen any sign compliance with these rules, or the flu, for that matter. But if things do get funky in the fall, will the bise really fall by the wayside? It seems impossible, but you never know...