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Pecking order in France

London, Feb. 2: Anyone who has ever been invited to dinner in France will know the feeling.

The expectant host leaning towards one with proffered lips. A moment of Anglo-Saxon embarrassment as the cheek is offered. And then a flurry of pecks as though one has just received the Légion d’honneur.

One, two, three and — oh God — you’ve overdone it. And there you are, mouth hanging in mid-air, eyes moving nervously from side to side as Mathilde, Marie-Claude or whoever it happens to be moves on to the next in line.

No longer. From now on, visitors to France will be able to go equipped with their own “kissing map”, showing how many kisses of greeting — les bises — they should bestow, according to which region they are visiting.

The results, compiled by the travel agents Thomas Cook, make surprising reading.

One might have thought most kissing would be done in the south of France, with its Mediterranean influences. Yet Thomas Cook’s research suggests when on the Riviera one should be content with two kisses, one on each cheek, of course. Go a little inland and the accepted total is three.

Kissing in fours is the preserve of Paris, and what one would expect to be the more reserved regions of Normandy, Brittany and the Pas-de-Calais.

Only in Teutonic Alsace do they conform to stereotype, allowing two kisses only.

But watch yourself in the Atlantic region of Charente-Maritime. There, they kiss only once, according to Cook’s. The kissing map is contained in Thomas Cook’s 2003 guidebook to French B&Bs.

But the trouble is that some of the information appears to be, well, duff.

Anthony Sartre, the spokesman for the town council in La Rochelle, the main town of Charente-Maritime, said the law on les bises was not written in stone. “It’s true, sometimes we do only give one kiss, but other times we give two. I can’t really tell you, but I can definitely say we are not colder people than people in, say, Paris, where they give four.”

Nicolas Besoli, a spokesman at the Hôtel de Ville in Paris, said the practice varied enormously, according to circumstance. “It really depends on the person. If you like someone a lot you tend to give them four if you see them on the street,” he said.

“If you don’t, it’s usually two. I, like most people in Paris, usually give two.”

The number of kisses can also depend on the level of acquaintance, with four kisses being reserved for family or very close friends.

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