A Confession

Here are some things that I used to hate when I first moved to Reunion; but have grown to like or even love:

Sparkling water, champagne, wasp larva (though definitely not at a love level yet…), the hard part of bread (I used to only eat the soft inside part), papaya, rice, coffee, fois gras, litchis…

But there is one thing that I can never grow to love. In fact; I think I hate it more and more every day.

I’m very sorry to confess, I HATE to do « the bise; »

At first it was kind of funny. I would meet new people and I would instinctively extend my hand to shake theirs, as we do in America. Awkwardly (and hilariously) at the same time, my new acquaintance would lean in to do « the bise » and I would end up kind of gently punching them in the stomach. This was about FOUR YEARS AGO and doing the bise has never gotten any easier for me.

First of all, it is not my first instinct to lean in for the bise when I meet someone or see them for the first time that day. At least once every day, I « leave someone hanging, » meaning I say hi and wave while they are extending their cheek expectantly in my direction. This causes me to snap awake, apologize, and mumble in my head about how I will never get used to doing this.

The worst might be at parties. I really really hate arriving at a big party, because you’re supposed to go around to EVERY SINGLE PERSON at the party, interrupt them, wait for them to stop what they are doing and turn around, and kiss them. This is annoying because it takes like 30 minutes to enter a party, and it’s really just awkward interrupting people who are in the middle of talking or eating to touch my cheek to their cheek. I’m actually laughing as a type this. Who ever thought that tapping cheeks together was a good way to say hello? Ok anyway, the other reason I hate entering parties is because I normally know only like 5 people at the party, which means all the rest of them are complete strangers that I will most likely never see again. Some of them are sweaty. Some of them are sick. Some of them are a little TOO friendly. I DON’T WANT TO TOUCH YOUR FACE WITH MY FACE! Oh and it’s usually at parties where I encounter a lot of people who don’t do the kissy noise when cheek tapping. I find this even more weird than doing the normal bise. If you don’t make the kissy noise; it’s just…uncomfortably silent and kind of creepy

Avoiding the bise has become a subconscious hobby for me. In the mornings I find myself walking the long way around school halls to avoid groups of adults, or keeping the farthest away possible when greeting someone. « Good morning! » I’ll yell down the hall to the teacher, hoping that it counts as our initial contact for the day. I can see it in people’s eyes when they unexpectedly run into me in the break room and want to go in for some bise time. But I just wave and run away. I think it’s very possible that I am the « Weird American Girl » in all my schools.

I don’t feel like that ALL the time, of course! I like to give the bise to my friends every so often, especially if I haven’t seen them in a few days and I’m genuinely happy to see them again! In situtations like that, the bise is just a natural extension of my love and friendship. Granted, in the US I would hug you instead, but that’s not too far of a step away from doing the bise!

In general I try really hard to not offend anyone, and to take part of the culture in which I have chosen to live. And I am doing so well drinking my champagne now and eating some wasp larva…but the bise is something I will never ever like. And here is the cherry on top as to why:

There are a few guys that seem to be without a home and hang around the streets of St Gilles where I live. I always make it a point to say hi to them, smile, and make eye contact, so that they at least don’t feel invisible. One of them once shook my hand and told me his name is Patrick. Patrick and I say hi whenever we see each other in the street. One day, while on the way to a private lesson not far from my house, I ran into Patrick. We talked for a second, and then he said « well, we should do the bise! » and I hesitated (for long enough a time that anyone else would’ve considered it very rude) before saying ok. Then when I leaned in for some cheek on cheek action I got quite a surprise…Patrick left a big wet sloppy KISS on both of my cheeks. As soon as I got to my client’s house I washed all that spit off my face and vowed that I will NEVER LIKE DOING THE BISE!! 

During our lesson, I asked my student why; WHY do some people do that during the bise? Why do they literally kiss your cheeks?? What does this mean?! And he explained that there is a lot of unsaid communication that goes along with doing the bise. A whole world of saying stuff without saying stuff that I never knew existed. With a simple cheek to cheek touch, you can snub someone, flirt with someone, offend someone, profess your undying love, or a million different things in between.

I find normal French difficult enough, I have no interest in learning secret cheek language.

And that is why I will forever hate doing the bise.


to grow to like – apprenez à aimer
shake hands – serrer la main
awkwardly – maladroitement
to lean in – penchez
to punch – cogner

to wave – saluer
to apologize – s’excuser
to mumble – marmonner
creepy – qui donne la chair de poule
to hug – embrasser

cheek – joue

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