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France, We Need To Talk About Cheek-Kissing Because It's Nightmarishly Awkward

In a bid to avoid embarrassment ahead of a trip to Paris, I asked my French colleagues to explain the culture around "la bise", or cheek-kissing. Turns out they're just as confused as I am.

1. So, who do I have to kiss? People I've just met, or only people I know well?

2. How many bises? One or two? More than two? Bear in mind I am British and therefore shrink from displays of human affection.

3. So the direction you approach from is important?

Anaïs: "People in the south don't start with the same cheek than people in the north. So I always get it wrong, start on the same side as the person in front of me, and we almost accidentally kiss. You know when you're facing someone on the street and you don't know which way to go, so you both bump into each other five times before getting it right? Same thing, but with your mouth. It is very awkward."

4. This all sounds incredibly complicated. Is it just hello, or do I do it when I say goodbye as well?

5. How about male friends? Should I faire la bise with them too?

6. Does it ever get awkward, for example when someone goes for la bise and the other person goes for a handshake or hug?

7. How do I do it exactly? Is it an actual kiss, or more of an "air kiss"?

8. Right, so the kissy noise is crucial?

Eric: "Yes. Otherwise it's awkward AF."

Anaïs: Yes, but not too loud, otherwise it's gross. So make a little bit of noise, and don't make it sound too ~sucky~."

9. Christ, this just gets worse. Aside from all the complexity and awkwardness, is it not really time-consuming when you're in a large group?

10. Does EVERYONE do it, or do some people opt out? Would I be considered rude for not doing it?

Eric: "Yes! It would be weird behaviour not to do it."

Anaïs: "Most people do it, and yeah, people think you're a jerk if you don't do it. Usually you don't even have a choice because as soon as someone meets you or sees you at a party, they'll lunge at you and leave you no other option than to accept their gross sweaty cheeks."

Pierre: "You can't refuse, it would be very rude – except if you're sick, of course."

11. As French people, do you ever get tired of it?