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“It's a terrifying rite of passage” Stylist France editor-at-large Audrey Diwan on the French kiss

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Audrey Diwan

Editor-at-large of Stylist France, Audrey Diwan reveals the secret to becoming a little more French

In France, we have two specialities – two areas of life which are so intrinsically linked to the country that they contain the prefix ‘French’: electronic music (the genre known as ‘French touch’) and French kissing. Just to reassure you, I’m not planning to write an exposé about French touch (even though Justice’s new album due out next year certainly deserves a mention). So, French kissing it is. It achieved worldwide fame thanks to the cinema and it all started with Jean Gabin and Michèle Morgan in the 1938 film Port Of Shadows. Gabin says to Morgan: “You have beautiful eyes, you know.” And she replies: “Kiss me.” It is she who initiates it and he who submits – with pleasure, it must be said.

My generation will also remember the 1999 music video for You Are My High by Demon Vs Heartbreaker: two tongues in close up wrap around each other for the entire two minutes and nine seconds. Both these examples sum up this extreme embrace, which is halfway between a performance and a sporting event.

The French test

Before taking the plunge, you should be prepared to put some practice in. And I must warn you, it’s not without pain. For every teenager in France, it’s a terrifying rite of passage. The first time you try French kissing is a source of more dread than taking your Baccalauréat [the French equivalent of A-levels]. It’s a subtle yet complicated art. It’s all about two tongues interlocking while maintaining enough mobility to twist and turn like ballet dancers on a far-too-small stage. It requires both flexibility and rigour at the same time. French men and women have all repeated to ourselves a hundred times over: “In a clockwise direction!”

In the playground, young girls circle their tongues in the air, as if kissing a ghost. Or slobber over the back of their hands to better imagine the contact with a boy’s lips. But really, the first time is not about pleasure. The two protagonists keep their eyes closed so as not to make a mistake, so as not to cause this diabolical machine to malfunction, so as not to screw it all up. They finish a little sweaty, a little tired but proud of having passed the test.

It’s only later, following a lot of practise, that they realise that their training hasn’t all been in vain. It’s about finding a rhythm between two people, that internal compatibility between two humans when they meet for the first time. Here in France we do kiss on the first date. Because if this first contact is not convincing, there’s no point pursuing the relationship further. It allows you to figure out another person straight away, without need for words. You can find out whether they are in a hurry, tender, lazy or curious. It speaks volumes about what they have to offer. And it speaks volumes about you, too… So remember that next time you lock lips with someone you don’t yet know.


Photography: Chris Floyd

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