In Praise of French Kissing

I miss French Kissing… my wife and I don’t do it anymore and it seems like it just never caught on here in Ontario between friends and acquaintances.

Maybe before I go any further I should clear something up — I’m not talking about a mouth-to-mouth encounter that involves each other’s taste bud organs, I’m talking about the quick cheek-to-cheek type of greeting that in European movies sometimes involves cheeks touching on both sides of the face (e.g. in French Foreign Legion flicks when they pin a medal on a dude). Like intended declarations of independence, in Quebec “The French Kiss” is usually done unilaterally, i.e. involving only one cheek per person.

You may as well know that while I was born and spent most of my life in Montreal, I’m not French. I grew up in what I thought was an Anglo suburb (there were two English high schools and one French one). The societies of primary and secondary schools are fairly insular and blinkered — they are the whole world to their members. In the English school system at the time the cheek-greet was pretty much unheard of, except in Audrey Hepburn movies. I don’t know if French Kissing is more of an adult way to greet… I don’t remember seeing the Francophone kids on my block running out onto the street after dinner and embracing before our games of kick the can or hide and seek. It wasn’t until years later that I began to appreciate how wonderful a greeting it is.

I think it was in college that I was introduced to French kissing. After a period of time being an awkward novice (I imagine I still French Kiss with an accent), I learned the various unwritten rules for, and the benefits of, greeting people this way. They will remain unwritten no longer, as I am about to reveal the secrets of The French Kiss to you here and now.

How to Do It
  1. You only engage in The French Kiss with the opposite sex, except when the same-sex French Kiss is between two females. Nothing is read into the female-to-female French Kiss in terms of sexual orientation. Males can French Kiss other males, but you must be pretty secure in your relationship with them to even attempt to initiate it. The inter-male French Kiss is best reserved for old friends who were once very close and have not seen each other for a very long time, or when greeting an old war buddy who once saved your life. If two males really feel the need for physical contact when meeting, it usually takes the form of a manly bear hug while slapping the other guy on the back as though you are trying to put out a fire, only a bit slower.
  2. You don’t French Kiss total strangers (unless you’ve paid them for the privilege as part of a more comprehensive intimacy package). Generally speaking, it’s a matter of “Kiss by association” where you earn the right to Kiss someone through an introduction by a friend, but you must still learn who you can kiss and how. Usually, you can only Kiss someone who your introducer has greeted in this manner, someone you could reasonably assume would be greeted by your introducer in this manner, or someone who initiates The Kiss with you. This is the most difficult and perilous aspect of The French Kiss as one wrong move and not only are you labelled a major worm by the person you’re trying to Kiss, but you compromise your relationship with the introducer. The big exception to the “Mandatory Introduction Rule” is that you can Kiss just about anyone who’s holding a drink at a raucous party upon meeting them, especially at Christmas, New Year’s, or on June 24. In the event that you are winging it and trying to French Kiss a woman to whom you were not introduced by a third party, you may be compromising your front teeth to her burly hockey-playing boyfriend. If you’re a female still unsure of who you can Kiss, just Kiss anyone you want… women fare much better after a French Kissing faux pas than do men.
  3. The mechanics of the actual Kiss are simple yet graceful and respectful. For the uninitiated, wait for the other person to make the first move. Then you approach so as you’re near enough to be able to lean in and touch cheeks. Remember, this is not meant to be an opportunity for frottage! Generally, lips are not involved… it’s a delicate dance of cheek touching cheek. Think of it as one person allowing another to enter their personal space and make contact with their cheek as a sign of friendship and acceptance . This is not an invitation for a booty call at spring break.
  4. Some, women especially, like to throw in a soft kissy sound without actually touching their lips to your cheek. Personally, I have been known to make light non-humid lipular contact with the cheek of a woman I like and know well. That’s the Greek in me breaking through to the surface, I guess.
  5. Some people throw in a little arm contact. A hand placed on the other person’s arm or shoulder elevates The Kiss to a greeting between two close friends, or with someone who is very close to someone you have a close friendship with. It communicates, for example, to your friend’s fiancée that she’s OK in your books and that you accept her as a natural extension of your relationship with her fiance.
  6. If you are greeting someone with long hair that you haven’t seen in a while but you were once very close to them, gently moving a bit of hair off their face following The Kiss is a sign of deep affection, respect, or consolation. This is an advanced technique, as is #5 above.
  7. When cheek contact is broken off, measure your retreat according to the actions of the other person. If you advance as they retreat, that may be taken as you coming on a bit strong and overstepping the boundries of the relationship between you. If you break off too soon or too quickly, they might take it as a snub.
  8. When in doubt, follow the other person’s lead without upping the ante.
The Benefits
  • The French Kiss allows you to non-verbally express your attitude toward the other person. Unless you want to make a scene, I suggest that if you want to diverge too far from a simple “glad to meet you”, be as subtle as possible. If you have worshipped the person from afar for years and want to take a chance, you can let them know that you’re saying more than just “hello”. On the other hand, if you once dated (or were married to them) and things did not end up too well, you can signal everything from “I despise you” to “all is forgotten” without telegraphing your sentiments to the whole room.
  • The French Kiss allows you to gauge the other person’s attitude toward you. Have they touched your arm? Have they lingered? Have they brushed the hair from your face? Have they slipped their phone number down the front of your pants? Chances are they like you. Were they stiff? Did they break off really quickly? Did they break eye contact and begin looking around the room immediately after the cheek break-off? Did they serve you with a restraining order? Maybe you should look for an opportunity to mingle and see who else is at the party.
  • The French Kiss allows you to get close enough to other people so that you can give them a good sniff. I don’t know if you’re into that sort of thing but I certainly am! Aside from possibly getting a whiff of some really nice perfume, you can get olfactory clues that can help give you something to talk about with someone you’ve just met. Do they smell of black bean sauce? Work Chinese cuisine into the conversation and you’re golden! If you’re married but he/she is really hot and is wearing a nice scent, ask him/her what it is. Then at Valentine’s Day buy a bottle of the stuff for your spouse and fantasize ’till you’re blue in the face (that’s right, I said blue in the face). Do they smell like the floor of a Route 66 rest stop? You can bring up that Irish Spring has just partnered with the Mitchum Deodorant people.

I invite you to try The French Kiss at some of this holiday season’s gatherings and report back here with your experiences. Seek out Quebeckers and surprise them with your new-found knowledge! Start a club, embrace a European, get jiggy with it!

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About HoaiPhai

I'm up late digging up the dirt. View all posts by HoaiPhai

13 responses to “In Praise of French Kissing

  • Carl D'Agostino

    OK for Italian males. Bond of blood and loyalty and respect.

    • HoaiPhai

      Same thing for Greek males, Paisan (in the greater Mediterranean-ancestry sense). My brothers and I greet with at least a hug. It’s an old-world tradition that Columbus might have failed to bring over because after all that time on the boats, he might have been fed up with his crew mates and didn’t want to greet them in this way.

  • Stepping My Way to Bliss

    I wish this was something practiced more in USA–what a lovely way to greet people. On a recent trip, I encountered it a few times when meeting new people from other countries (not the USA). It can feel a little awkward to me since it happens so infrequently. With this helpful guide to French Kissing, I will try to initiate it more and see what happens (be prepared for emails asking “what the heck did I do wrong?”) ~~Bliss

    • HoaiPhai

      I’ll do my best to help you out in the post-game assessment but I suggest you give the people who don’t take kindly to your “advances” the address of my blog so that they’ll know that you were just trying to be friendly and not moving in for a quick feel (or their wallets). Best of luck but I’ll not be held responsible for personal injuries or losses incurred as a result of trying this maneuver on those not used to it!

  • small cars

    This was really a fascinating subject, I am very lucky to have the ability to come to your weblog and I will bookmark this page in order that I might come back one other time.

  • Ape No. 1

    I read this post few days too late. I just came back from France and not a single person greeted me in this way. Next time I will rub lipstick on my cheeks to give the signal that I am open to a genuine french greeting.

    • HoaiPhai

      I don’t think the French were put off by thoughts that you were uncharted territory. As stated in my post, the European French seem to favour the bilateral French Kiss. Were you wearing your slouch hat pinned up on one side while over there? If so they might have viewed that as an impediment (or even a deliberate snub) to their usual symmetrical cheek rubbing ritual.

  • japecake

    I once attempted a French-Canadian kiss but was scorned for doing it in English.

  • japecake

    Incidentally … down here in Canada’s diaper, “French kissing,” or “Frenching,” refers to something else entirely, i.e., intense mouth-to-mouth action with heavy involvement of the tongue.

    • HoaiPhai

      Heh-heh…. same thing up here! The naughty-sounding title was a boldfaced attempt at attracting hits to the post. It didn’t work as well as I thought but the title still reflects the fact that I first did the cheek-to-cheek kiss (see, just doesn’t sound as good, does it?) with friends from the French side of the tracks. Ironically, my first foray into the tongue-oriented greeting of which you speak involved a very anglo rooted girl.

  • My no-longer-non-award-winning blog » Random Says...

    […] who has his own blog. (If you go check it out, you’ll find some cool photography and thoughtful posts. Plus, he spells ‘checks’ as […]

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