George Mikes, humorist, satirized Great B for drinking and offering tea more times during the span of one single day than one can count on one’s set of fingers. He wrote that in England, “you have tea for breakfast;… at 11 o’clock in the morning; then after lunch; then you have tea for tea; then after supper; and again at 11 o’clock at night.”
Now France and England may as well be the world’s worst enemies who played war with each other for more than a century, but there is no denying that they have a lot more in common than one would think. In England, you get tea; in France, you get kisses.
Now tea and kisses aren’t even slightly synonymous, but in France, you get kisses when a stranger meets you for the first time (and also the second, the third, the hundredth and every time in between and after); when your boyfriend runs into you (or a friend of your boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend’s friend), when your grand-mère comes over (with her brood of a dozen and their broods as well), when you’re being wished “bon voyage” (or “bonjour” or “bonsoir” or “bonne nuit”) and in myriad other situations. (See the similarity between England and France now – at least vaguely?)
In India, you can tell if someone hails from Kerala if her hair reeks of coconut oil and her lunchbox reeks of fish; you can tell if someone’s native soil is Tamil Nadu if she suffixes every sentence with “da” or “di”; you can tell if someone is an Anglo if she constantly prattles about her new stilettos and her “strap-dress” that she bought in October for the Christmas Ball in December; if she is Punjabi, the only dance step she will most likely know is the one with arms bent at the elbow and two fingers up on each hand – the bale bale.
In France, you should be good at math to predict which part of the country the beaus and the belles come from. If you find yourself in Bretagne, the bagpiper of the Lann-Bihoué will give you a kiss; if you happen to be in Lyon, the waiter in the bouchon might give you your duck pâté, your wine, a kiss on your right cheek and another on your left (note that you only have to pay for the duck and the wine – the last two items are gratis); if you end up in Montpellier, the jazz singer you meet in L’Arena will give you a trio of verses, but before that, a trio of kisses; in the City of Love – to reinforce its moniker – you get four kisses (discounting all the spit-swapping under the world’s biggest tower with no purpose other than serving as a silent spectator that has watched more romance than Roger Ebert and the entire diaspora of film critics and romance buffs ever did); end up in Corsica and some descendant of Napoleon Bonaparte may generously give you a fivesome of pecks.
If you have a sadistic streak or if you’re a germophobe (either way, your motive is to evade being French kissed), you could just say, “I am a direct descendant of Edward II, King of England, who cheated on his French consort with a gentleman named Piers Gaveston,” or “Your Burgundy wine tastes like dishwater.”
They might put you on trial and have you guillotined in La Place of Concorde or scorched at the stake in Rouen (this is called giving one’s enemies a taste of their own medicine) for your heretical incivility, but on the brighter side, no more French kisses guaranteed!