Tucked away in the South Pacific is a little gem that almost 260 000 people like to call home – Vanuatu. The British and French colonized this archipelago of 83 islands up until independence in 1980. Traces of their culture remain from the buildings, food, schools and even the way people greet each other. The ‘bisous’ or ‘le bise’ is the French way of saying hello. It usually entails placing one cheek against another and making a kissing sound. Or you can go in for the complete lip-smacking kiss on both cheeks.
For some of the residents, greeting people with a kiss on the cheeks makes them feel uncomfortable, especially considering that the majority of the expat community is from New Zealand and Australia and their culture of greeting is usually just a smile and ‘hello’. So how can you avoid the ‘bisous’? Is it rude to do so? Some people are not comfortable with physical contact, even if it’s a good friend, while others think it’s unhygienic to touch another person’s face. Others just find it awkward and too formal. While there are plenty who have embraced it and find it part of Vanuatu’s charm, if you don’t want the intimacy of the ‘bisous’, here are some tips to avoid it.
You can be as subtle or as obvious as you like. Allow the gesture to take place, but simply just kiss the air. Or when the initial greeting takes place, blow kisses instead of leaning in. Make sure you do it with a big smile and minimize eye contact.
Just say it – ‘I’m Not French’.
This is easier to say if you are in a casual environment with friends. Sometimes it’s harder when you’re in a professional situation or participating in a celebration like a wedding, where it would be quite rude not to follow social protocol.
When they come in for the bisous, just open up your arms and go in for a hug. Hopefully this won’t clash into something awkward.
Shake Hands or High Five
As above, just reach your arm out and shake their hand before they can kiss your cheek.
Pretend You’re Sick
When the other person comes in for the bisous, just tell them you’re sick. Instant repellent.
Nod Hello and Ignore The Initiated Bisous
Simply nod and wave. And make sure you give a big, genuine SMILE!