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By: Patrick Horstmeier

The discovery of a new country implies the discovery of cultural differences. As a Frenchman, this starts as soon as I want to say "hello" to someone...

France, like any country, has its own cultural specificities. However, France being "the land of love" (from what I've heard here), the French have a very special way of greeting each other. While in the United States a simple "Hey" is enough when joining a group, it is considered rude not to say hello individually to all the people in France. The situation becomes more complex when it comes to…

la bise!

French President Macron doing "La bise"

France is world famous for the French kiss, but most of the time, French people kiss in a more friendly way. In France, to greet someone, you quickly kiss both of his or her cheeks. But even French people do not agree on how to do la bise… As Youtube-star Paul Taylor likes to say it: “What the f*** France?!”

Here is a quick guide on how to greet French people without upsetting everyone:

1/ Make sure you are not in a formal meeting. If you are, just shake hands like you would in the US.
2/ If you are a girl: you greet everyone by having la bise.
3/ If you are a guy: you greet only girls by having la bise.
3.1/ Exceptions to this rule are:
- You greet good friend -even boys- by having la bise.
- If you are in the south of France, you do la bise with everyone.

4/ In most parts of the France (including Paris, because let’s be honest, if you visit France, you are most likely to start with Paris), you do two kisses when having la bise. One on each cheek (starting on the left one). But depending on where you are in France, the number of required kisses can be somewhere between one and four. Locals will have great fun correcting you… Alternatively, If you don't want to make a fool of yourself in front of the locals, some French geniuses have developed a site that will allow you to determine how many kisses you will need to make depending on where you are in France (no joke). To give you an overview, these data are summarized in the following map:

4.1/ With some good friends, especially if you are a boy and your friend is a boy too, you can do more kisses to express your affection.
5/ If you leave, remember to say goodbye to everyone by following the same rules.

Now you know the basics. Kind off.

Obviously, some American friends warned me that I should not attempt, IN ANY CASE, to kiss a stranger here. And obviously, I forgot.

Before you file a complaint against me, let me tell you the details of the story. I obviously didn't forget that I shouldn't kiss Americans on my first day. It was only when the atmosphere became more friendly that my habits resurfaced. I didn't kiss a stranger either, I just looked stupid by tilting my head towards someone who did not know the 5 rules of la bise (you would have known!). We had a good laugh and now, thanks to this incident, some of the students on campus know the five rules of la bise…

By: Patrick Horstmeier

Day 0

It's 21:43 in my hometown Lyon, 15:43 in Washington and 16:43 on the plane. The shadow of the night has already cast itself on my hometown but will not catch up with me for a little over 6 hours. For the next 365 days, I will be far from home, but getting closer to my future. I'm excited. I'm smiling.

Day 1

Everything is bigger here in the US. The campus is huge, way bigger than my SciencesPo Paris campus. The streets are broader, the cars are louder, and the meals are bigger. Welcome to the land of superlatives. My first day at GWU starts tomorrow. I can’t wait to meet some locals and to get to know the city. As I often said: Our differences will be our common point. I can’t wait to discover the culture, the museums; I can’t wait to run around the National Mall (and to run up the stairs of the Lincoln Memorial while listening to the theme of Rocky the boxer); I can’t wait to embrace the opportunities that the university will offer me: to meet outstanding professors, to look for an internship, to be in the heart of Washington. I can’t wait to – as they would say – raise high!

Day 6

Remember how we made fun about how I will miss French wine and French bread when I would be in the US? Well it’s the case now! Where are my croissants? I wish they were here (at least as much as I wish you were here!)…

Day 10

Classes have begun. Some teachers already captivated my attention. I’m gonna have a great time studying philosophy, international relations, political sciences and way more… The only “negative” point here is that I must sometimes walk 15 minutes between two classrooms. As I said: everything is HUGE!

I already had the opportunity to visit the Capitol, the Smithsonian’s, Georgetown, the Waterfront and more. I am surprised by everything Washington has to offer. You remember my phones wallpaper? Yes, Pollock. Well I have seen one of his drawings in real for the first time at the Hirshhorn museum. You know how I love Jazz? Well I have seen a life show in a small Jazz club. I’m sure that I still have lots of places to discover. I can't wait to show you around! I hope you are doing well in France, can’t wait to see you here!

Day 18

“My names in Bond, James Bond”. Every morning I drive along the Pentagon (Yes, THE Pentagon), the National Mall and the White House. I don’t get used to it: isn’t that a secret-agent itinerary to work…? Well here it’s my way to GWU!

Day 21

Do you remember the riverside in our hometown Lyon in France where I used to take pictures when I was young? Wasn’t it lovely? I have found a gorgeous spot down by the water here in DC too. I would love to take you there to enjoy the golden light of the sun going to sleep behind Rosslyn, the ducks and the swans. Here I am, writing this letter. Behind me a street artist plays Jazz and some kids dance, in front of me boats ride up and down the Potomac. Looking over to the other river I am once again wondering: the river is huge!

Day 35

You are going to be proud of me today… I applied as a volunteer at the IMF. It’s just around the corner of the classrooms. That’s why I’m here: the opportunities here in Foggy Bottom are endless. And I have so much time left to seize them! One thing is for sure: I will have a lot to tell you when I get home!

 

To be continued...

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