“La bise” endangered?


Pidä yllä englannin kielen taitoasi kesällä! Lue esimerkiksi tämä hauska artikkeli, jossa ranskan kielen opettajamme Jean-Albert Campello pohtii, miten koronapandemia vaikuttaa ranskalaisten tapaan tervehtiä poskisuudelmin. Artikkeli sopii niille, joiden kielitaito on B-tasolla.

You can read this article also in French: https://blogit.omnia.fi/oppiajailoa/2020/06/17/la-bise-en-voie-de-disparition/

“La bise” endangered?

All those who have already gone to France or who study French, know this cultural practice which
is called “la bise” (the kiss), even the ”la bise à la française”, as this tradition is rooted in the habits
of the French and governed by innate codes, often impermeable to strangers.
But the days of this famous kiss are perhaps numbered, believe some, including the sociologist and
anthropologist David Le Breton, author of several works and studies on the place of the body in
society, who thinks that ”the kiss could pay the price of this period of confinement ”or others more
categorical, like the doctor Eric Gilbert:” To kiss is today a sanitary nonsense. A simple kiss is
enough […] to infect another person. ”

French protesters

Despite everything, at the very beginning of the epidemic, the behaviors of the French towards the
kiss did not seem to change, as shown by certain studies (https://www.charles.co/infographie-etudeifop-
french-coronavirus/). And even during the epidemic, the adoption of physical distancing
gestures take a lot of time to go into practice. At the beginning of March, some people still declared
“I think we are going too far in paranoia […] so I continue to kiss the people I know. », a trend
confirmed by surveys (https://www.bfmtv.com/sante/sondage-bfmtv-avec-le-coronavirus-les-francais-se-lavent-ils-plus-les-mains-et-se-font-ils-encore-la-bise-1873154.html). This resistance to the
instructions of the State was due in large part to a lack of knowledge of the virus, but also to the
”protest” temperament rooted in French culture. ”Parisians are always a little bit reluctant, a little
”refractory Gallic”, they want to keep kissing. They don’t want to be told what to do” says a Parisian
bar owner. Consequence of this ”innate contestation”, the change of habits and behavior are done
more by social mimicry than by legal obligation. This was the case, for example, with smoking
cessation in public places. And all the more so because these gestures are automatic, implanted in
our brains from very early childhood, like the kiss.

The “antibise” trend

However, the kiss had already started to lose on poularity before the start of the coronavirus
epidemic. An ”anti-kiss” movement had notably appeared on social networks such as Twitter (”Aux
oubliettes #bisedumatin”, ”Petition for the end of the kiss”, etc.). ”These reactions manifest a much
deeper feeling, that of a fed up with a generalized kiss over time” explains Mathieu Avanzi, lecturer
at the Sorbonne and author of the book Parlez-vous (les) français ? It is a fact, today, everyone
kisses everyone, whereas not so long ago, the kiss was reserved for family and friendly circles.
Because unlike the handshake, which imposes a natural distance between the bodies, the fact of
touching the cheek triggers the action of entering the other’s private sphere. Only moving your lips
away from the other person’s skin can desexualize the act of kissing. In 2020, the symbolism of the
gesture is no longer linked to what we experience internally, but to a strong sign of belonging to a
microculture or a circle. For proof, the massive invasion of the kiss at work.

“A choice”

In the 1980s, with the emergence of open spaces, the kiss at work became more democratic,
establishing a fraternal and egalitarian side to create links in a society that lacked it. But it becomes,
at the same time, a kind of meaningless constraint. ”Kissing in the office is part of the corporate
culture,” said Caroline Duffau, business consultant. ”When you arrive in the morning, it’s the same
ritual: you have to do a general kissing tour to colleagues from your department” And this, very
often, whatever the level of hierarchy or intimacy. The kiss in the workplace caused, for an
increasing number of people, a certain discomfort and a feeling of rejection. ”I think that the
practice of handshakes […] will last,” explains David Le Breton, ”while the kiss, a more feminine,
more personal and voluntary practice, could pay the cost of this period of confinement.” A feeling
of rejection especially strong among women, for whom it is experienced as a sexist constraint, since
the kiss is almost a universal obligation for her, while the kiss between men, even if it has
developed a lot, remains rather confined to intimate circles. ”Before coming to Paris, my face had
never touched that of another guy”, laughs in his sketch, La Bise, the English humorist Paul Taylor
(https://www.youtube.com/ shows? v = T-VWbV6TJxU).

A historical practice

Presumably to have appeared in Roman times, ”basium” was a sophisticated greeting and courtesy
ritual. It will last in the Middle Ages in the form of the kiss on the mouth within the nobility and as
an honorary symbol of a lord towards his vassals. In the 14th century, mainly because of the great
epidemics of the plague, they put some distance with others’ body, and the kiss disappears. It makes
a shy comeback at the Renaissance in the form of the ”gallant kiss”. Before finding itself
exclusively reserved for the intimacy of the couple, with the Victorian prudery which spread to
Europe in the 19th century. After the First World War, the kiss came back to the light: hand-kissing
in high society, kissing the cheek in popular circles. This real public appropriation dating only from
1968, where it will lose its sexual connotation.

A French passion

This new trivialization will be accompanied by a whole vocabulary: “bise, bisou, bec, schmoutz,
baiser, bécot, biger, poutou…” and a certain ritual: number of kisses (1, 2, 3 …), cheek on which to
start (right or left), people with whom to do it or not… which will vary according to the regions, the
people, the context… to the point that its unwritten rules remain sealed tight to the French
themselves. “This regional distribution is confusing, attests the linguist Mathieu Avanzi. We have so
little historical data and writings that it remains a French enigma.” Even if guides or websites, like
”combiendebises.com”, try to give you the key to this enigma. Because this obscure practice of
kissing remains confusing and hated by a certain number of foreigners who prefer the ”hug” or the
”air kiss”. But as psychosociologist Dominique Picard, author of Politesse, savoir-vivre et relations
sociales, specifies, “We are a contact civilization. In France, as in Italy or in the Maghreb, where
you touch each other to greet each other, this remains a sign of identity recognition, which you need
to feel that you exist in the eyes of others. A way of telling a person that they are not strangers.” The
kiss therefore seems to have a bright future ahead of it. However, in the context of the coronavirus,
other alternatives are emerging, everyone is free to choose …


The Wâi Thaï: hands joined, head bowed and body tilted towards its interlocutor, the Thai ritual
seems ideal, provided however to respect the safety perimeter of one meter recommended by the
Ministry of Health!
The check or fist bump: in Seoul, on February 28, South Korean President Moon Jae-in greeted
his deputies with a double check – fist against fist. A gesture to banish today …
The footshake: This is the new buzz of TikTok, the mobile video sharing application that is popular
with kids. The idea? Have his feet checked as a ”hello”.
The elbow shake: banging your elbows is one of the alternatives proposed by Agnès Buzyn, the
former Minister of Health. But beware! If we are asked to sneeze in our elbows to limit the
spray of spit in our hands, isn’t there a risk of contamination?
The high five: without touching, you present your open and raised hand. A ”Ave, César!”, in a way

The smile: it ultimately remains the simplest ritual, safe and, above all, the most pleasant to

Kirjoittaja: Jean-Albert Campello, Espoon työväenopiston ranskan tuntiopettaja