When in France, Greet with a Kiss — The North Star Reports – by Rachel Rees. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal
In the United States, a common greeting typically consists of a “hello” and a wave. Although many Americans believe this is the only way to greet a person, not all countries have this custom. In France, a common greeting with a person you know consists of les bisous, kisses, on one’s cheek. Many Americans view this as a violation of personal space and an odd greeting, but to the French it is just as common as a wave.
When I visited France, I traveled around to different cities for one week and was assigned a host family for another week. Quite frankly, one of the things I was most nervous about was the bisous. We had learned about how to greet people in France during class, but learning is different than participating. Luckily, the bisous is the greeting used for people whom you know, so I did not have to worry about being kissed by strangers. My first experience receiving and giving les bisous was when I met my host family. For those of you interested in experiencing France, it was not as bad as I thought it would be– don’t let it dissuade you from visiting.
Americans may find les bisous a violation of personal space, which makes them view the greeting as odd and abnormal. The French and American cultures vary in the way personal space is thought of and used. The French do not have the “bubble rule” and are much more intimate, close in proximity, with one another. From an outside perspective, culturally, it is easy to get caught up in how odd this difference is because of its unfamiliarity. This may lead many to believe les bisous is an inappropriate greeting and that their own greeting is the correct one. If you stand back and look at the differences in greetings, there is no right or wrong way. The differences in culture play a large role in the specific greetings of cultures. In my experience, Americans in particular have trouble seeing cultural differences as equal, a prime example of sociocentrism. Simply put, Americans have a tendency to think their way is superior to those of other cultures when it comes to differences such as greetings.
Whether it be acknowledging a person with wave or with a kiss, a greeting is a greeting. Although other cultures’ greetings may seem abnormal, one must always look at the cultural differences and realize there is no right or wrong way to greet a person. Each culture is unique, which makes traveling such a great tool for learning.
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Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief, The North Star Reports; Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal; Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, MN, USA
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