DEAR MISS MANNERS: I moved to France six months ago for my job, and, for the most part, the experience has been wonderful. I have fallen in love with the French way of life. But one part of their system of etiquette has bothered me since I came here: the kiss "hello" and "goodbye."
I feel it is absolutely disgusting, a waste of time (as one must do it with every person that walks into a room), and a deep violation of my personal space, especially when I run into people that I don't like. I have told the Americans that I know here that I don't like it, and most of them respect that, but one always leans in for it, and does not stop pestering me until I do it.
Do I have the right as a foreigner to say that I don't like this specific part of their culture? If I do, how do I tell people that I don't want to do it, before they even lean in for it (I often have to kiss people "hello" that I have never met before, and I'm constantly meeting new people) without starting a culture war? I've tried pretending to be sick, but I cannot use that continually. Should I just tough it out?
GENTLE READER: You certainly should refrain from criticizing it as a part of French culture. This would be not only rude, but laughable, since the custom has long since spread to many parts of the United States.
Mind you, Miss Manners more or less shares your feeling about this. She does not go so far as to think social kissing disgusting and a deep violation, but she does think it silly and undignified. Dropping formality to pretend that everyone is on instantly lovey terms with everyone else, even strangers, strikes her as childish.
Wait -- isn't that what the French have always said about American manners? And don't they react with horror at the idea of American informality spreading to France?
All right, payback time. If you promise to do it with politeness and humor, Miss Manners will allow you to lie in wait for just such a complaint and then trot out the kissy-poo example.
In the meantime, she hopes you will not make an issue of it with people who are only following the prevailing convention. However, you are at liberty to minimize the effect by positioning your leaning at a parallel 4-inch distance from the face of your greeter. The classic version of this custom is air-kissing, not facial smooching.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have a friend who constantly refers to herself in the third person, i.e., ?"Jenny never eats red meat," or "Jenny loves to go to the movies!" What is the best way to deal with this wholly annoying habit?
GENTLE READER: How would Miss Manners know?