Since my return to work on Thursday January 2nd, I’ve observed an interesting thing: there’s a lot less kissing going on in the office. I contribute this to the Me Too movement. If this is indeed a change towards something new, then I liken the trend to the demise of topless sunbathing … a quaint custom practically inexistent now.
In past years, the first few days of January were spent in a flurry of “Bonne Années!” and cheek-kissing. As I wrote in my blog post six years ago – “Being Anglo-Saxon, as I’m called here, I’ve never been a fan; I prefer a swift, no-nonsense handshake.”
Flash forward six years: when a male colleague exclaims “Bonne Année!“, the women hold back, their body language suggesting that they wish to keep a comfortable distance. The new decade is all about personal space and an increased awareness of boundaries. Believe it or not, and despite the image of France being a nation of anarchists, French society is still freighted with cultural codes, rules of behavior, and a certain pressure to conform to the traditional way of doing things. This includes the way people greet one another, an important practice here. So this ‘holding back’ and signalling that they prefer not to kiss, is new to Frenchwomen. I applaud their attempts to change and develop new behavior patterns.
As for me, I returned to work and approached one and all with a smile on my face, a greeting of “Bonne Année!“, and my hand outstretched, ready to shake.
Here’s the blog post I wrote six years ago on January 4, 2014 –
And the paradox is that despite their reputation for being oftentimes rude or standoffish, the French are actually quite festive and sentimental. Nowhere has this been more apparent than during these past four days – it’s almost as if they’ve been waiting for January 1st to roll around so they can cry out “Bonne Année!” to one and all.
I’ve just spent these last few days exchanging New Year’s greetings with every living person that has crossed my path. If dogs could speak, we would’ve bid one another a happy and healthy New Year.
“Bonne Année!” (Happy New Year!)
“Meilleurs voeux!” (Best wishes!)
“Bonne Année, Bonne Santé…surtout la santé!” (Happy New Year, Good Health… especially health!)
It’s nice. Very nice. But I’m exhausted. I’m not used to all this Parisian exuberance. It started with neighbors in my building followed by the postman then the concièrge and then the café owner and his wife on the corner and then the streetsweepers as they stood on the corner knocking back espressos from the café and having a smoke. Even our local homeless person had something salutary to say. And that was just on my way to work. Once at the office, things really heated up.
“Meilleurs voeux!” exclaimed my boss, leaping from her chair when I walked in on Monday morning. I stood in the doorway of her office. Was she going to shake my hand or kiss me? There’s always that awkward moment when you don’t know whether to stick out your hand or proffer your cheek. The best action to take is to just stand there and let them take charge. Thank goodness Parisians only kiss twice, once on each cheek, as opposed to three or four like they do in the nether regions of France.
It’s funny, this kissing thing. Being Anglo-Saxon, as I’m called here, I’ve never been a fan; I prefer a swift, no-nonsense handshake. I’ve just had a thought … maybe it’s me who’s standoffish?