it gives an insight into the French custom of kissing but the main problem is that the rules are variable and, in my experience, even French people are inconsistent.
Take our region, for example. According to the map we are a four-kiss area and many of my friends would agree with that. However, you can never be sure that the person you greet is going for the full number. Many is the time I’ve expected four and only had two – and vice versa! The older men tend to go for four -and they can be sloppy -whereas the ladies are more inclined to stop at two, barely brushing your cheek.
According to some people the French are quite sensitive about the etiquette of greetings. If you have progressed from handshaking to kissing with someone then it is almost an insult to revert to handshaking the next time you meet. (In the same way that it is very rude to say ‘vous’ after you have agreed to say ‘tu’.)
Since everyone greets everyone else at any gathering I always try to arrive early so that there are not so many people to remember (as it is up to newcomers to do the rounds). If people stood still it wouldn’t be a problem but there’s always a chance you will offer your hand or cheek to someone and they’ll tell you we’ve already said hello. However, most folks will smile and say something like “better twice than not at all!”
Children tend to kiss everyone at first meeting – but just once. Even the boys are expected to kiss men when they are introduced. Of course, most men will kiss other men in their family and good friends will do likewise. I remember how Bear was taken aback at first when given a hug and kiss by a Frenchman!
After six years I’m kind of used to the custom and inadvertently confound English visitors by going for at least two kisses when they arrive. However, in our household we don’t kiss one another several times every morning so we’re not fully integrated yet!