‘If we can’t greet with kisses – we have nothing.’

‘If we can’t greet with kisses – we have nothing.’

How ridiculous, I’d thought, when a French friend of mine said this to me during the second Covid confinement, here in South West France. I’d wanted to reply that I thought he was being a little melodramatic. I’d wanted to say that I’m bloody glad I don’t have to ‘faire les bises’ every five minutes, and hope I never have to again. I’d wanted to say that I’m thankful to Covid for saving my cheeks from innumerable strangers’ lips sucking onto them every day.  But even though I’d like to think of myself as becoming more outspoken with age, I bit my tongue on this occasion. How would challenging one of the firmly cemented pillars of French life help our friendship and my integration into the local community? It wouldn’t.

 

So, I kept quiet then, and keep to myself that I don’t intend to ever go back to ‘fairing les bises’, and that I quietly envy everyone in the UK who is enjoying the return to the less invasive greeting of a lip-less hug.

 

My dislike for ‘fairing les bises’ did not rise out of nowhere, but developed from being a tennis player. I have been playing in winter league tennis competitions for many years in France – where two teams meet at the weekend throughout winter to play a mixture of singles and doubles matches. There is, obviously, a receiving team and an away team. Each team has at least five female players and the receiving team usually has friends present to cheer on their side. So, we’re talking at least ten women – sometimes up to fifteen or sixteen – and if the men’s teams are also playing that day, we could be up to thirty. Each person needs to be kissed; of which there is no question. Some are from the Charente and so are kissed once on each cheek.  Some are from other areas of France and range from an outrageous two kisses on each cheek whilst firmly holding your shoulders so there’s no possible glimmer of escape, to three kisses – two on one cheek and one on the other. An exclamation of ‘ooh!’ from me after the most basic of one kiss on each cheek, hasn’t yet deterred the over exuberant four-kisses brigade from continuing. Having that many mouths passing from one check to the other, millimetres from your nose at 8.30 am on a Sunday, soon highlights those who have eaten garlic recently: those who were obviously drinking Cognac at 8am or possibly in the car on the way to the tennis courts: those with halitosis, or those that leave moisture after the kiss and those that make a sucking noise that make my ears ring.  And all of this upon arrival.

 

We then play our matches, congratulate one another on a good shot, applaud one another, accuse one another of calling a ball out when it was in, laugh and sweat our way through the day. There are the obligatory kisses at the end of each match. After the entire team is either defeated or victorious, we all sit together and eat whatever the receiving team have prepared which is usually a delicious variety of salads, baguettes, cheeses and ham, washed down with a glass of red or a glass of water. And then the much-dreaded round of departure kissing – the entire routine repeated.  At least after sharing the meal we all smell the same (apart from the player who obviously smuggled a bottle of Cognac in in her tennis bag!)

 

So from the simple act of playing a winter league tennis match I may have my cheek kissed over a hundred times – and my lips have to kiss other cheeks for as many.  My Vitamin E lip salve has been challenged to the max.

 

So, personally, I for one, am quietly thanking Covid for masks and social distancing.  I can only dream of a kiss-less hug, and until I can get back to the UK to start enjoying them, and at the risk of being shunned from French society – a fist pump for all my friends and fellow tennis-players is going to have to do!

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