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Even saying ‘hello’ can get awkward in other countries

Bailey Clark headshot.jpg

Bailey Clark is a senior journalism student who currently lives in Paris, France. She interns as a fashion photographer and writes installments to "Tigers Abroad," a column series updating The Daily Helmsman's readers on students studying in foreign lands.

If you move to a new city, let alone a foreign one, you will begin to notice small changes in your behavior and in the things you like. It’s inevitable.

Moving to Paris, of course, there are bound to be changes — some for the better, some for the worse. But I think perhaps the most obvious ones come in your behavior and mannerisms. At least, it’s like this for me, and I notice these things the most whenever I come home and realize I’ve done something that isn’t normal.

For example, the way I say “hello†to people has changed drastically. In France, when we meet someone, we “fais la bise.†That is to say, we give each other a kiss on each cheek. Now, this doesn’t happen in the workplace, but if you’re among friends and family, you always greet one another with a kiss on each cheek (It’s not really a kiss, it’s more like you lean in and touch cheeks, making a kissing sound as if you had actually kissed).

At first, this felt abnormal to me. Uncomfortable. But now, it has become natural, and I feel more awkward not doing it then if I had.

When I went home for vacation in August, I ran into a girl I knew at the grocery store my first day back in the states. My first reaction was to move closer and lean in to “fais la bise,†but then I stopped myself. I thought, “Oh wait, you’re in the states. She’s going to think this is weird.â€

At this point though, I was already too close to her because I had started to lean in, so I quickly changed to an awkward semi-hug with a girl I hadn’t seen in over a year. She probably thought I was crazy.

Clark_abroad pic lake

“While you get used to odd cultural differences such as when you ‘fais la bise,’ you never get used to sites like the Seine on a sunny day.”

But in that moment, I couldn’t remember what to do if I wasn’t going to give her a kiss on the cheek. Do I hug her? Do I shake her hand? Do I just stand there? I honestly couldn’t remember. I was stuck between worlds.

I kept thinking about the situation, and I finally realized that it probably would have just been best to say “hi†and stand there making polite small talk. Yet, I had already made the situation awkward by starting to “fais la bise.â€

Even in France, if I meet other Americans, I struggle with this. I recently met two girls from Boston visiting a French friend of mine, and I again went to lean in to give them each a kiss on the cheek before realizing they don’t do that.

It’s little things like this that happen when you go home or meet others from home that make you notice how your habits have changed.

So if you happen to meet a girl in January who awkwardly jumps into your personal space when she meets you as if to kiss you, don’t worry. It’s probably just me, still adjusting to life in the United States.

Clark_ abroad pic building

“Even after over a year here, I am still awed by Parisian facades on some days.”

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