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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 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! 

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