I think I’d have to split the idea of becoming friends with a real authentic French person into separate stages just because it makes it all just that bit more exciting for us as Erasmii.

Naturally at first, you know no one and because you aren’t exactly sure of what’s going on (believe me you become accustomed to this feeling), you just watch to see what everyone else does. Normally the keen-bean learners go and sit at the front tables that are just inches away from the ‘prof’ and then as usual there are those who are clearly just there for something to do and these specimens tend to commandeer the back rows. Which leaves you with a selection from the middle area; and here you need to be super observant with a virtual checklist. Who looks like they are going to be taking good notes? (You’ll be wanting to copy them). And who looks like they might take pity on you when you pull out the ‘Je suis étudiante Erasmus phrase’? As a general rule, I try and pick out the person who looks like they might be a bit of a loner and therefore glad of some company (even if this company is going to be asking them every five minutes what the task is). On the whole this has worked well for me; only in one Spanish lesson did I take the plunge and sit down first to find that my usual ‘buddy’ (clearly no longer), sits at the place in front just to avoid me.

Despite the whole controversy of the usage of ‘vous’ v. ‘tu’, I’ve taken the decision to just ‘tu’ all students, at 20 I am in fact 2 years older than the majority anyway (afterall I am a blundering foreigner and am forgiven for such incompetence), and so far I haven’t had any glares or been corrected so I’m just going to continue. So yes, the first stage of finding a potential friend completed, it’s time to introduce yourself. Now, if you can remain super-observant for the register this will help because you can easily learn the name of the victim of your presence this way. But of course, you don’t want to appear to stalker-ish in starting a conversation by using their name; instead it’s probably best to ask a question about the homework you’ve been set, even if you need to dumb yourself down (this isn’t terribly hard for me). This is possibly a good time to announce your foreignness and the ball should start rolling from here…

The next stage is great at making you feel like you’ve really achieved integration, especially when you aren’t expecting it. On greeting your buddy, instead of the usual ‘Salut’, things have now stepped up into the kissing category and more importantly you are now safely on the friendship ladder. Standing in the corridor being suspiciously eyed by the Frenchies (endearing term, no?), they start to believe you are really meant to be there if you get ‘bise-ed’ by someone. The going rate here seems to be two bisous but I’ve heard that if you get really friendly there can even be three or four. What really puzzles me is how ‘faire les bises’ is a fairly intimate way of saying hello and bursts through the boundaries of the personal zone whilst at the same time nobody seems particularly enthused about having to go this rigmarole. Instead of the good old-fashioned hug, people generally have their arms limply hanging by their sides and their ‘visage’ is not one of enthusiasm.

Thus, doing the ‘bises’ can be a little awkward for more than one reason:

  1. If you accidentally go the same way as the ‘bisouee’ and you almost end up kissing on the lips
  2. You slightly move your head during a bisou and receive a bang to the side of your face (normally a stubbly bang if this is done with males)
  3. When meeting lots of Frenchies all at once, a ‘group-bisouing’ session takes place so beware – do not pass through an on-going bisou, else you run the risk of becoming a ‘bisou-sandwich’
  4. When said group-bisouing session is taking place and trying to fit your name in between each cheek smooch, as way of introducing yourself to an unknown Frenchie
  5. (And as happened to poor, unfortunate Stella), when a super-friendly Frenchie decides to go in for a third bisou but alas you have already moved on leaving the bisouee mid-kiss without an available cheek

But no friendship is complete without the exchange of mobile numbers and sadly enough to receive a text from a Frenchie is deemed highly exciting and deserves an announcement throughout the household. Understanding French text-speak is manageable, working on the same principles that it’s all phonetic; so it’s all fine as long as you know the word in the first place. EG. C t  = c’était and aprem  = après-midi

The case is not so for an incoming call with a number commencing +33. This is in fact fear-inducing and has us drawing straws to determine who will take on the challenge of answering. Even worse is when the number is ‘inconnu’; perhaps the best option here is to simply leave this one to voicemail, as Stella was left to persuade her caller that no, her name was not Nassima, nor was Nassima available to answer (and nor would she ever be). After six calls of this nature, Kamel (what a great first name) has ceased calling. And I was sure a romance was budding…..

To bise or not to bise, that is the question!

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