I have noticed a gradual mental shift in my very American internal reaction when I view couples lip-locked on the sidewalks, park benches, bistros, and Metro platforms. My initial thought is, "Get a room!" But then I realize that I actually appreciate the carefree abandon with which the French show their love and affection for each other. And by love and affection, I'm talking much more than the standard double-cheek euro kiss.
Parisian couples- young and old, gay and straight- take their city's moniker very seriously. Love is demonstrated by long, full-bodied embraces, hands cupping faces, or sliding down towards their lover's lower back to pull them in for a closer embrace, and sometimes, hands even disappear altogether underneath a lover's clothing. Fingers caress cheeks and run through their partner's hair, eyes lock upon each others' for long, loving gazes. Kisses are strong and sensual and they routinely involve tongue action. Duh, French kissing! They are exchanged in multiples as if neither partner wants this kiss to be the last. Oh, parting is such sweet sorrow! Seriously, walking down a Parisian sidewalk can sometimes be like flicking the switch on my childhood View-Master if it were loaded with a disc of images from Romeo and Juliet.
While the French desire to keep toileting separate and private, by my observations, they certainly don't feel the same about demonstrative passion. As a parent, I have learned to value the real-life learning opportunities this French behavior has presented to me. The Birds and The Bees has taken on new and deeper dimensions thanks to our daughters' eye-witness accounts of sensual, sexual, passionate, and shocking liaisons.
One Sunday morning, last Winter, Soren and Raelyn headed off to our favorite boulangerie, for croissants, which requires a walk across the river to Ile St. Louis. During their walk, they passed a park bench and this particular bench happened to be occupied by a pair of lovers. Even by our newly revised don't get a room standards Soren was shocked that the woman, who was sitting on the lap of her lover, had her legs hoisted up and over his shoulders while they passionately kissed. She was wearing a mini skirt and had bare legs; in the middle of Winter! I told Soren that perhaps she was a prostitute, but his take on it was that they were mutually authentic lovers in their 30's blinded and numbed by passion to the frigid temperatures outside. Hearing about this bare legged, mini skirted, passionate woman, I couldn't help but think back to the scene from When Harry Met Sally, when, after Meg Ryan's climactic scene stealer in a restaurant, another female diner says to the waitress, "I'll have what she's having!"
The girls learned about French kissing thanks to two teenagers riding on the Metro. The young gal was sitting on her beau's lap as they noshed away on each others' lips and tongues, oblivious to the fact that two impressionable grade-school kids were taking it all in. Upon exiting the train, my daughters' first comment was not, "Eww, yuck!" Their first question was not, "Why do they do that?" What my girls actually wanted to know as they looked me square in the eye was, "Do you and Dad do that?"
It's not that the girls have never seen Soren and I kiss, embrace, cuddle, and hold hands. It's just that we, like many of our fellow Americans, engage in the rated G version of demonstrative love when in public. Raelyn and Nola have seen our wedding video numerous times and their most memorable clip is when Soren embraces me, dips me backwards slightly and plants a great big lingering kiss on my lips upon the minister's pronouncement that we are husband and wife. Almost every time our girls have seen Soren and I kiss over the years, they begin a boisterous and demanding chant of, "Wedding kiss! Wedding kiss! Wedding kiss!" If we fail to deliver, they let us know that we have not met their expectation of a repeat performance.
It occurred to me that Raelyn's and Nola's desire for Soren and I to demonstrate tangible displays of love, passion, and sensuality between us, likely has something to do with the fact that these emotions are core to our essence as relational human beings. The French have taught me how it can be healthy for children to witness parents engaging in a fuller expression of their relationship- one that moves just a bit beyond quick pecks on the lips or simple hugs, but rather, displays a deeper sense of passion and sensuality. My guess is that very few French children have to ask their parents if they French kiss because this behavior is so ingrained into their country's culture of romance in a very public, and- dare I say- titillating way, that, it's as normal to them as is breathing. As newborn babies, they've probably seen their parents French kiss countless times before they all head home from the hospital.
I do wonder if marital status impacts this cultural display of passion and, if so, to what extent? The French romantic in me wants to believe that at least some of the folks that I've stalked with my camera are happily married and still wild and crazy about each other. My new goal- for the remainder of my time in Paris- is to prove to my kids that, like these French couples, I am still wild and crazy about their Dad. Oh yea, and to bring this custom back to the States. Who knows? Soren and I just might gain a reputation for being the prolific PDA couple of Walnut Creek. I think I already have a park bench picked out. Then, of course, there's Bart, the fitness club lobby, the Meher School parking lot ...
Due to the overwhelming and enthusiastic response that I received for my 2010 EuroMan Election blog post, I bring you another voting opportunity. Ladies and gentlemen, Mesdames et Messieurs, I now present to you for your viewing and voting pleasure: The 2011 French Lovers Competition.
Results void where prohibited by law.
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