Goodbye La Bise: This Pandemic Marks The End of a French Kissing Custom

La Ciotat empty boardwalk plage lumiere beach palm trees
Empty streets in La Ciotat. But this isn't the only reason why citizens here may be spared from the coronavirus. It has to do with an unusual sanitary practice dating back to the plague. More, in today's story.

Today's Word: épargner

    : to spare

Click here to listen to Jean-Marc read the French below:

La Peste épargne La Ciotat. Grâce aux mesures sanitaires, au courage des femmes, la cité maritime se préserve du terrible fléau. -Frequence

La Ciotat is spared of the plague. Thanks to sanitary measures, and to the courage of the women, the maritime city preserves itself from the terrible plague.

Epargner was word of the day on Dec. 15, 2008, with an alternative meaning

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

Since President Emmanuel Macron declared the current Covid-19 pandemic une guerre sanitaire we, along with many countries, have been careful to respect the government-imposed confinement. Each night our family gathers to watch the news, to learn how Paris and Grand Est are faring. Yesterday, when Prime Minister Edouard Philippe warned the virus is spreading quickly to other parts of the Hexagone, and that protective gestures are now a matter of life and death, we all felt a chill creep in. 

"This will be the end of La Bise for the rest of France..." our son, Max, predicted.

Currently, all French are practicing les gestes barrières, including no more bises, or "salutation kisses"--a habit that's been easiest to break for citizens of our town because we've been out of the habit for 250 years. As those of you who have visited La Ciotat can attest, our seaside town is the only place in France that does not practice la bise. The ritual kiss was ended during the 18-century plague, where La Ciotat had the lowest mortality rate. 

According to town records, if La Ciotat survived La Peste, it was thanks to an army of determined women who guarded the city ramparts, literally pushing the fleeing Marseillais and other non-Ciotadens off of the mur de peste

Wall built to keep out the plague-Mur_de_la_peste
Mur de la peste. Plague walls such as this one can be seen around La Ciotat. photo from Wikipedia

Pierre-Edouard Lemontey writes: Le petit port de la Ciotat échappa au fléau par la sévérité des femmes, qui se chargèrent seules d'en garder les avenues. The small port of La Ciotat escaped the scourge by the severity of the women, who were responsible for guarding the avenues alone.

It is not clear what the men--Les Ciotadens--were doing during the epidemic (playing boules, as we will soon see?), but according to numerous sources including our city's website, the bravery and efforts of les femmes Ciotadennes saved the town. Having survived the plague, La Ciotat would go on to become the birthplace of cinema, as well as the town where boules or petanque was invented.

This brings us to Fanny. All who are familiar with the popular game of petanque will recall the Kiss Fanny tradition. According to this Petanque site:

Being fanny (être fanny) means losing a game of boules or pétanque without scoring a single point— losing 13 to zero. (In the USA, we call that a “shutout” game.) Having to kiss Fanny is the ultimate humiliation for boules players everywhere.

You do not have to literally kiss someone's derriere... a photo or a statue will do... 

If you ask me, this unusual ritual is second only in humiliation to another tradition, known by locals as La Fanny. This bonjour gesture involves, as you guessed, the fanny or behind, and dates back from the time when La Bise or social greeting kiss was outlawed in an attempt to protect citizens from the plague, which had already killed 60 percent of nearby Marseilles' population.

Centuries before the elbow bump would be the socially acceptable salutation during a pandemic, those brave French women who guarded the cobbled streets of La Ciotat came up with a new way to greet: They called it "La Fanny" in honor of the bravest in their Bubonic army. Their heroine, Fanny, returning home from an exhaustive day wrestling plague-ridden subjects over the fence, and in a bid to protect her family/friends from catching the malady that she herself might be harboring, refused la bise. Turning away her cheek and pulling her arms close lest they carry traces of the disease, Fanny jiggled her bum in what would become a quaint and cheeky bonjour.

The tradition caught on and all citizens began using the new, more sanitary, greeting, affectionately known as La Fanny. To this day our town is the only place in France that does not practice la bise--instead, it does the bum greet.

I admit this was the main reason I ruled out The Cheeky City back when we sold our vineyard and needed to move on. Sanary! Bandol! La Cadière! I begged Jean-Marc--anywhere but La Ciotat. As someone who is easily embarrassed, I knew I could not bear to greet our new neighbors via a--pardon my French--"butt bonjour."

But when Jean-Marc found this charming bungalow with a yard where I could plant my permaculture garden, I was bummed (in another sense of the word)!  Reading up on the culture of the bum bonjour--La Fanny--I learned there are many ways to practice the cheeky greeting.  There is a version or... a bum for everyone! Everything from....

The well-heeled/upper-class/Aristocratic Fanny (involving a slight turn to show your backside...a bum curtsy if you will... to the casual/blue-collar Fanny (a no-shame jiggle-jiggle-jiggle of the derrière!)--all are fitting and acceptable ways to say hello here in La Ciotat (but don't try this in Paris--or be regarded as a country bum-kin).

Beyond Paris and the countryside, other countries would do well to follow our cheeky example here in La Ciotat and avoid passing along an illness. Anglophones, for example, could shake their booty instead of shaking hands. So remember: Don't shake. Shake, shake, shake! instead.

Somewhere in the midst of it all, I have found my own comfortably conservative version of La Fanny. Please stand with me now and let's practice the bum bonjour together. Here we go....

Show us your backside...
Jiggle-jiggle-jiggle! (giggle giggle giggle)....

I call this version the "April Fools' Fanny!" Enjoy it and be sure to share it with a friend.


P.S. If this was your first April Fools of the day, let me know in the comments, below--or tell us what jokes have already been played on you. I leave you with a picture of my sister-in-law and me greeting family à la Fanny. Both of us are doing the April 1st version, bien sûr! That's Cécile pointing out the Jean-Marc is doing it the wrong way! Isn't that what siblings are for? To help us with our social étiquette? :-)

P.P.S. As usual, your corrections are most helpful and appreciated. See a typo or a grammar mistake? Let me know in the comments and thanks in advance!

La fanny
I hope you enjoyed today's history lesson, a reprieve from the news.  And while the bum bonjour may not spare us from COVID-19, staying home will help save lives!  Take care everyone. Stay home. Before long we will all be kissing again! Vive la bise! 

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ Give $10    
♥ Give $25    
♥ Give the amount of your choice

To purchase our book-in-progress, click here.

Tout ira bien. All will be well. + Confused about cleaning practices during the pandemic?

Cleaning coronavirus disenfecting mop
Are you confused about cleaning/disinfecting during the coronavirus pandemic? Me too. (Photo taken in the sweet town of Villedieu.)

Today's word(s): Tout ira bien

 : All will be well*

*Famous words of Julian of Norwich

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

One week into confinement and I'm waving a white flag of surrender: this time over the obsession to control germs. As you will soon learn, I am not a germaphobe. But like you, I've stepped up my routine: when washing up at the sink, I now rub down handles with my soapy hands, wash the dishtowels daily, and go over buttons, handles, and knobs with a soapy cloth. OK, I did that twice before realizing my family of 4 would continue to use the microwave, the doorknobs, the sink...and they would carry on sneezing, coughing, and breathing on things. Should I keep passing behind them with my soapy sponge? No! It is impossible to keep surfaces germ free all of the time, what with everyone touching everything, all of the time.

During my daily nap/Youtube session (reprieve from it all) a few video recommendations caught my eye. The first program asked, Do You Know the Difference between Cleaning, Sanitising, and Disinfecting? 

When the gracious host/professional cleaner admitted that on a daily basis a simple soap and water solution in a spray bottle is sufficient, I breathed a sigh of relief (dish soap and a clean cloth or sponge are my methods for both cleaning and, I suppose, sanitization). But when our Youtube expert turned her attention to the third possibility, I had to admit I had never used a disinfectant. In fact, it's been on my shopping list--to buy as soon as the lines outside of the stores go away. Will they?

Meantime, another suggestion popped up on YouTube. Clicking open the video, I listened to a woman explain how she washes all of her groceries and the sacks in which they were delivered. Next, she admitted that she changes out of her clothes and into fresh vêtements before entering her bedroom--her own sanctuary from germs--to rest.

Snuggled in under my own bedcovers a realization came over me: I had worked all morning in the garden, and then cleaned the chicken run before heading in for my sieste. Lying there in my jeans and my dusty fleece jacket I could now imagine the sheer number of contaminants I had carried into my own sanctuaire. For a moment I felt filthy in the world's eyes.... until images of childhood flooded my mind in a most soothing way.

Nothing's changed since mon enfance. I still take naps after playing in the dirt. And everything has always been and is still OK, and....

"All shall be well,
And all shall be well,
And all manner of things shall be well"

Tout ira bien, et tout ira bien, et tout ne peut qu'aller bien. Julienne de Norvich's words are greatly calming--as is a call to my sister, Heidi, who gives me a crash course in le nettoyage: "Bleach is a good disinfectant."  OK, I think I've got that somewhere. Tout ira bien.



EDIT ME: If you see une faute de frappe (typo) in French or in English, I would greatly appreciate it if you would point it out in the comments or via email. Merci beaucoup!

*    *    *

P.S.: Do you ever take a nap in your work clothes?

P.P.S. About most germs: Mom adds that sunshine and fresh air are cleansing, and that we should never quit playing in the dirt. I leave you with bon courage wishes, and a screenshot from my sister (I have two soeurs) and me on Facetime. I'm wearing the computer-generated heart-glasses and my trusty dusty fleece jacket. Heidi's got computerized bunny ears. It's Heidi's birthday on March 27th. Joyeuse anniversaire en avance. Thanks for being such a great sister and best friend. XOXOXOXO

Heidi and kristi

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ Give $10    
♥ Give $25    
♥ Give the amount of your choice

To purchase our book-in-progress, click here.

Célibataire, Confinement, and Divorce after the coronavirus?

Lettuce poppies permaculture victory garden
COVID-19, or Coronavirus disease 2019, is no laughing matter. The French (for the most part) are respecting les gestes barrières (wash hands, cough/sneeze into your coude, stand a meter apart, stay home #jerestechezmoi). Today, a light-hearted story from our family's confinement here in La Ciotat.

Today's Word célibataire

    : single person; bachelor, spinster

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

Yesterday, Wednesday, I was in our garden watering the radishes, the lettuce, the fava bean plants, the patates, the blueberries, and citrus trees. There's nothing like la guerre* and the threat of rationing to get a lazy gardener to plant seeds and arroser

Our postwoman, Marie, rang the bell at the front gate and three of us hurried to greet her. Max opened the portail and I held out my arm to prevent Mom from coming any closer to Marie.

With the gate wide open Marie glanced around the yard as Smokey bounded toward our postlady to say bonjour. "You are lucky to have a garden," Marie noted while waving hello. "A lot of families are cooped up in tiny apartments." After a moment passed in which we counted our blessings all over again, and turned our thoughts to those suffering, Mom broke the silence. It was her turn to greet our postlady:

"Marie! There's our Marie!" Jules sang, sending kisses toward la factrice with the wave of her hands. Marie seemed happy to see us too. That giant smile. That joie-de-vivre blue hair of hers. She had a scarf wrapped high around her neck, just missing her mouth and nose. It was tricky keeping the do-it-yourself mask in place while delivering mail all day.

"Don't they have a mask for you?" I asked, imagining the hundreds of people our post lady comes into contact with each day.

"There are no masks," Marie confirmed, not even for government or public workers. No masks for the police, no masks for the check-out lady at the supermarket, no masks for the pharmacist. And no masques de protection for the citoyens, not when hospitals need them.

Marie handed a letter to Max, instructing him to wash his hands after opening it. I noticed our postlady's own hands were gloved. "Are people respecting the one-meter rule?" I asked. Marie said some were not, citing one guy who tried to put his arm around her as a gesture of solidarity. 

Speaking of guys....

"Hey Marie!" Mom said, "after this coronavirus is over, I need you to help me find a boyfriend!" Surely our postwoman knew where all the célibataires lived.

"Ah! That should be easy," Marie laughed. "After this confinement, there are going to be A LOT of divorces! That means even more célibataires on the market!"

We laughed and said goodbye to Postlady Marie, wishing her bon courage. On my way inside the house, I passed Jean-Marc who was watering his geraniums. Things had gotten frosty between us a moment early--during a disagreement over re-potting plants.... Rather than pick-up where we left off in our disagreement, we both smiled. Tight smiles. But smiles all the same.  When this confinement is over, I know JM will be happy to get back to his wine shop, I'll be happy to have the garden (and all decisions therein...) back to myself...and Jules will hopefully find "son Jules." 

     *    *    * 
Meantime, soyons patients with those around us. Water the seeds of love and forgiveness. Back to my garden now, where I will, as the French say, s'occuper des mes onions (or mind my own onions! Minding my own business has been the biggest challenge so far....when I have the urge to remind family members how to live during the confinement! If you, too, have this urge, you may need to surrender...just a order to get along.).



EDIT ME: If you see une faute de frappe (typo) in French or in English, I would greatly appreciate it if you would point it out in the comments or via email. Merci beaucoup!

Surrender clothesline france
"Surrender" - a subliminal message from my clothesline? I dunno. But I'll take it! 

* la guerre. French President Macron, in his Monday night address about the pandemic, used the word guerre 6 times: "Nous sommes en guerre....contre un ennemi (…) invisible, insaisissable." We are at war with an invisible, evasive enemy

les gestes barrières = "barrier gestures"
le coude = elbow
le potager = veggie patch, kitchen garden
la patate = potato, spud
la guerre = war
arroser = to water
le portail = front gate
la factrice = postlady, postwoman, postal worker
le citoyen = citizen
le/la célibataire = single person
bon courage = good luck
son Jules = her boyfriend
amicalement = (see list of ways to say goodbye in French)
Postlady marie
Another story, here, about our postlady Marie, who is as caring as she is funny. From our garden I can hear her talking to the rare person walking down the street: Bon courage! she'll say to one, and Oh! Une vivante! she'll shout to another ("there's a live one!"). Bravo for your sense of humor, your heart, and your courage to deliver mail to all the people who are confined.

Ongoing support from readers like you helps me continue this French word journal, now in its 18th year! If you enjoy these posts and would like to keep this site going, please know your donation makes a difference! A contribution by check (click here) or via PayPal (below) is greatly appreciated. Merci!
♥ Give $10    
♥ Give $25    
♥ Give the amount of your choice

To purchase our book-in-progress, click here.