Honey, ‘come take me in your arms’! Oh, just give me a ‘hug’!
I was horrified to learn in my first French course that there existed no word for “hug.”
“But embrasser?” we naively asked. “Surely that must mean to embrace?”
“No,” our kind teacher informed us, “embrasser means to kiss.”
“So this,” we said, wrapping our arms around ourselves. “What do you call this?”
Surely a simple demonstration would quickly clear up the matter.
“Prendre quelqu’un dans les bras”, Madame Julie said.
“Come on,” we snorted. “You must have a word for ‘taking someone in your arms.’” French is supposed to be lyrical – what’s with this unwieldy phrase?
Calin, she offered, but I have since gotten wise to that, too. A calin is a cuddle, and a cuddle does not a hug make or vice versa (though both are nice).
This should have served as (one of) my warning(s) about France – what kind of place doesn’t have a word for hug?
The missing word is not the only cause for concern. It’s missing the hugs, period. I grew up on big bear hugs. Hugs are used as greeting, comfort, congratulations, and more where I’m from. Getting used to la bise was a whole other story.
Ah yes, la bise. After 3 1/2 years I still find la bise awkward: Do I touch your cheek or don’t I? Must I make a kissing noise to accompany the air kiss? I’ve moved in too close, my face is too far. No matter how many times I do it, I never get it right.
I feel their pain. In a country where you can kiss even your colleagues, and every entrance and exit you make is a half hour marathon of giving la bise, one’s natural tendency might be to give everyone a kiss. Apparently even your financial and religious advisors.
I guess you’re not supposed to do that.
There might be no word for hug, but there are many for kiss. In addition to embrasser, a bisous is a kiss. Un baiser is a kiss. But beware the latter – danger lurks!
After our first three dates, Jerome had still not made a move. Shy and sweet, he was the perfect gentleman – by that point, I was ready for him to take a step towards not being one.
Hours into date three, we’re listening to Nina Simone, drinking sweet white wine. I – eyelashes batting – finally ask, coy as can be, “so, don’t you want to kiss me?”
Only, my formulation was woefully wrong. If un baiser is a kiss, I had reasoned, baiser must mean to kiss (whoa! big leap! whatever gave me that idea?)
Well, friends, it was the wrong conclusion. Baiser means to f***.
My coy question turned instantly into a crude proposition. Reserved Jerome, however, did not let on.
“Yes, I want to kiss you,” he said correcting me (though I didn’t notice the correction). Because he did kiss me. And I melted.
Only months later did Jerome tell me what I had actually asked him. Americans really are direct, he must have thought. No doubt about it.
Shout-outs this week also to Adam for sharing how his romantic tete a tete turned into a table of 10 (deux and dix can sound awfully similar depending on whose pronouncing the words) and French teacher Marie for clearing up excite and chaude. It’s great feeling excited, but in French you better be ready to mean ‘sexually aroused.’ Now Jerome tells me I should still feel free to say excitee, but I won’t take his word for it. He’s just a little too good at keeping a straight face.
Poll: Are you more a hug person or a kiss person?
Plus: Funny faux pas always welcome. The best examples always get free shout-outs.