Wednesday, October 12, 2011

(Non-)kissing in Bulgaria

I spent three months in Sofia (Bulgaria) from September to December 2010.
I won't write anything about my work experience at the local Italian embassy here; I'll just stick to the main greeting-related topic.
Before going to Sofia, I thought Bulgarians would be a warm people, like Slavic people are known to be. Well... I was partially wrong!
When I arrived, I met a young woman I had got in touch with on CouchSurfing, who had offered to share her flat with me (I paid a low rental fare of about 100 euros per month, but I had to move out one month later, because her flat was so uncomfortable and we didn't get on very well). When we met, she gave me her hand, I took it and kissed her on both cheeks. It was ok: she didn't look astonished nor did she react in any particular way, but I guess she wasn't expecting it.
Some days later, I met other people from CouchSurfing at a meeting organized to visit some art museums and galleries. The organizer was a brilliant and pretty girl. When we met, she shook my hand with great energy, but that was all. When we said good-bye, after a pleasant time, she hugged me and I gave her kind-of a kiss on the cheek.
When I met her again, one month later, she still greeted me with a handshake as if that were our first meeting... I was a bit puzzled!
On another day, I met another young woman I had got to know on Facebook, with her husband and their baby. Again, we said hello and good-bye with quite a cold handshake.
I admit I didn't meet many other Bulgarians, but I did see many of them meeting up here and there. I noticed that the most common greetings among friend is, surprisingly, the handshake! Some of them hug, many fewer kiss. Like everywhere in Europe, cheek-kissing is a bit more common among younger people, but still not that common!
I hope there will be more cheek-kisses next time I go to Bulgaria (although I don't know when it's going to be, since my first experience there was not great - mostly due to my work at the Embassy and to the several street dogs that scared me)!

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Kissing in Lithuania: not the most common thing!

So, I'm back with my remarks about cheek-kissing all around Europe.
I was in Lithuania from 8 to 22 June. I visited the "biggest" (or, better, "the least small") cities and was hosted for free by fellow members of the CouchSurfing community. It was a great experience and, although this has nothing to do with my blog, I'd like to advise everyone who like travelling and meeting people from other cultures to join CouchSurfing.
As far as our topic is concerned, well... Lithuania isn't France! There is quite little to say about cheek-kissing in this small country.
As a general rule, people don't kiss on the cheek. Greetings consist either in a handshake or just in verbal greetings (like "Labas" or "sveiki" - hello - or "Laba diena" - good day).
When I met my first host - a 24-year-old girl - we shook hands and, later, I shook hands with her mom and her best friend (a girl). When I departed from them, I just said good-bye to the mom, while the girl hugged me and planted a kiss on my cheek (not the usual good-bye kiss, but more of an affectionate kiss).
Afterwards, I met a couple of fiances I had previously hosted in Italy. No kisses here, just hugs/handshakes upon meeting and departing.
Meeting and departing from my third host - a girl - was awkwardly "cold". Just a handshake both times...
Then I was hosted by a family with a baby. When I met them, I shook hands with the adults and said hello to the child. Upon leaving, I shook the child's hand and he hugged me; the husband shook my hand and the wife did the same... but she added a quick peck in the end. I wanted to give her a kiss back, but by the time I had turned my head, she had disappeared! :(
My last host family was the same from where I started. When I arrived, I was greeted only verbally and, when I left to go to the airport and fly back home, I shook the mom's hand and hugged and kissed the girl.
So, Lithuania is a Nordic country from the point of view of greetings. Only-verbal greeting comes first. Then, handshake. Hugs are the normal way to greet friends you haven't met or won't meet for a while. Kisses are not the norm but are slowly getting popular.
I sometimes saw friends exchange one or, more rarely, two kisses on the cheeks and, on one occasion, I even saw a girl kiss her friends (of both genders) on the lips to say hello. I had read about this on a guidebook, but it still looked awkward to me!
I hope you have enjoyed this post. More will hopefully follow!
Viso gero (Lithuanian for "good bye", always pronounced like "segara"!),

Long time no post


Almost five years have gone by since I last updated this blog! Wow... quite a long time!
I have never been a good blogger because I am never constant enough in writing, although I like writing!

Anyway, I would like to resume posting on this blog because I keep receiving positive feed-back about it (alongside with a lot of spam messages). It's weird to realize how many people are interested about an apparently shallow topic like cheek-kissing. So, I will try to update this blog with my recent kissing-related discoveries.

Meanwhile, you may want to read this interesting forum thread:

Michele (pronounced like: Mee-kay-lay)

Friday, December 22, 2006

Kissing in Cherbourg (Normandie, France)

Another town I visited during my holidays in Normandie was Cherbourg, an important harbour in the Cotentin paeninsula. I went there to visit an interesting Fine Arts Museum and stayed there only a couple of hours, but this let me learn a little about the practice of the bise in Cherbourg. You could imagine it is similar to that in Bayeux, couldn't you? Well, you will be wrong. For what I have seen, the most spread number of cheek-kisses was four. I remember a pretty girl who kissed an elder man four times. I also saw people exchange two bises and others just one, but one kiss looked as the most unusual option.
In a small village in the internal part of Normandie, called L'Aigle (The Eagle in English), I saw people exchange three or four kisses, the latter being the most frequent.
In both cases, I couldn't observe many people who practised this gesture, but this can already provide clear evidence of how much the French kissing custom varies not only from region to region but, I would say especially, within the same region. That is why la bise is the most puzzling custom even for the French!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Kissing in Bayeux (Normandie, France)

I spent three weeks in Normandie (North-Western France) in 2001 and I could observe the practice of the bise (social cheek-kissing) in three locations.
One of them was Bayeux, a nice town close to the village where we had rent a house, not far from the seaside of Omaha Beach. There, I didn't notice any great problem concerning the number of bises. From what I saw, the standard greeting are two kisses (starting from the right cheek, I think), although three are also possible. One Sunday, after going out of the church, I even saw two people exchange five kisses, which I haven't seen anywhere else so far. At least one of them must have been from the North of France, where I have read they exchange five bises.

Visitors of the blog

I see from my Shinystat counter that this blog is being read (or at least viewed) all over the world, especially in the USA. So, I warmly invite all visitors, even if not Europeans, to leave a comment and to write about whether the kissing on the cheeks is practised in their country, if yes how, etc. Feel free to drop me a line!
And now, as promised, I will start the series of posts about the bise in the single French locations I've been to.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

"La bise": the French custom of kissing on the cheeks

The French are famous for the custom of greeting people with kisses on the cheeks. This custom is called in French se faire la bise, which isn't translatable into other languages: literally, it means to do the peck (little kiss). I read somewhere (but I don't remember where) that the bise originated in the North-Western region of Bretagne and was first practised by people from the country, then it spread throughout France.
Be aware of this before going to France: the kissing on the cheeks is an institution in France. Whenever two people meet in informal circumstances, they are expected to exchange kisses, no matter if they are close friends or just acquaintances. Young people may kiss even upon the first meeting, especially if introduced by a mutual friend.
People always kiss to say hello, even every day, and often also to say good-bye. Women kiss everyone, men kiss women; men may kiss male friends or relatives, mostly in Southern France. The bise has almost replaced the verbal greeting. I've seen people kiss without saying bonjour ("good morning") or salut ("hello"). If you join a group, you must kiss everyone and here is the dilemma: how many kisses are to be exchanged? Well, there is no answer. The number can go from one to five (or more?) and varies from region to region but also from town to town, even within a town. In Bretagne, I noticed that people usually kissed twice or four times in one village, while in neighbouring villages the custom was only one kiss. A minor problem is: which cheek should be kissed first? It seems that in Northern France, people start kissing from the right cheek, while in Southern France they begin from the left cheek. However, this distinction is very simplified and it may not work very well. People also exchange one or more kisses during religious celebrations, when the priest says donnez-vous la paix ("exchange a sign of peace"). And, of course, the French kiss in the same other circumstances as other peoples kiss: to express wishes, feelings and so on. So, you see that it's very important not to forget this simple but problematic gesture.
In the coming posts, I will analyse the practice of the bise in many French locations where I have been, so that you can get a more precise idea about the complexity of this charming custom.

(This post was taken from my Virtual Tourist page about France, where the length is limited, so I may update it in the future.)