French Culture Carbonne

"Les Bisous" (Kisses)

Now here's an area most Americans know nothing about, and may make them a little uneasy. We have our culturally-established standback distances that only allow a handshake greeting except for closest friends and relatives. You've seen it on TV and at airports when Europeans greet travelers. If you don't want to be treated like an American you must adopt this mannerism. Europeans are told to respect our distance requirement and do 'handshake only'. After all these years it feels natural.

French Les Bisous
French Les Boises

"Bisous" are for non-business associates who you have previously met and particularly those people you like. Women almost always do it. Men do it with women but only with closest male friends/relatives. You can take your cues from your spouse/sponsor/guide.

Here's how I learned it: I approach the person, following Emma's cue, I extend a hand to the person's arm to steady the contact, maintaining eye contact to check which way to go first (but there is an unspoken protocol on 'right first'), then I lean forward and touch and almost-kiss each cheek. There is some variation in this based on the closeness of the relationship. Most people also make the sound of kissing. Of course this all accompanies a spoken greeting and a smile.

"Bisous" are halfway between a handshake and an embrace. 'Kissers' have a chance to check the person's temperature, skin texture, odors, and other characteristics impossible with more distant greetings. After you have met somebody with 'Kisses' it is not easy to be distant with them later. Isn't that an interesting way to improve communication

Another aspect of 'les Bisous' is that one must always be prepared for such greetings, so personal hygiene is a constant consideration. Thus one must always shave and clean up before going out, even to the little epicerie four doors up the street. That certainly raises the standard of appearance and behavior in public.

Music Notes

One must assume that the citizens of Carbonne and other towns in rural SW France have normal levels of education and intelligence, but then how do I explain their apparent taste in musical entertainment at large civic dinners or other gatherings? In addition to the universal popular music DJs at earsplitting volume, there is this regional phenomenon, "les bandas". Apparently descended from bullfight (corrida) bands of neighboring Spain, these groups of 30 young brass and saxophone players with snare and bass drum perform mostly unison versions of marches, waltzes, and folk tunes and drinking songs at one level; maximum. I will be charitable to report that they hit 80% of the notes. Intonation or tuning of the instruments is within 1/2 step flat or sharp. They dress in colorful uniforms reminiscent of USA high school bands.

The audience's response is similarly unfamiliar to me, as an American. About half of the time they stand up (often on the chairs) and in unison rhythmically wave their arms over their heads and sway, often while singing with the players, whether or not there are words associated with the piece. Nearly everyone in the hall participates; not just the young. The behavior is not particularly connected with alcohol consumption, though the volume increases as the dinner progresses. This cacophony goes on steadily for 40- minute sets. The groups are well-paid, reportedly a thousand Euros for an engagement. They hail from many towns around us. Carbonne has only a small group, about 10 members, but it strives to the same musical ideals.

Emma, who grew up in Carbonne in the 1950s before moving to Bordeaux and then USA, says this phenomenon is new to her, though she recognizes some of the tunes. have intentionally omitted the term "musician" in this report.

"La Musette":, traditional French music; a small combo with accordion, is fading from the apparent culture, along with anything that is danceable by a couple. As in USA, group 'line-dancing' and solo dance activities still survive.


Now here are the Top Stories of 1527 (when the house was first completed):
  1. Earth was just circumnavigated for the first time (Magellan's ship and crew). It is thus demonstrated to be a sphere (or at least a cylinder). ;-)
  2. The navies of the world use rowing galleys for warships.
  3. Francois I rules France (Valois family).
  4. Henry VIII rules England.
  5. Charles V rules the Holy Roman Empire.
  6. Suleyman I 'the Magnificent' rules the Ottoman Empire.
  7. Cortes, Pizarro and DeSoto are 'exploring' North America.
  8. The Renaissance throughout Western Europe is at its peak.
  9. Martin Luther's Reformation is spreading rapidly.
  10. Michelangelo is executing "The Creation" on the Sistine Chapel ceiling.
  11. It is 40 years before Shakespeare's birth.
  12. It is 200 years before Mozart's birth.
  13. It is over 485 years before today.

Additional historical note:

I am currently reconstructing (in period techniques) a ruined structure from the 13th century, located in a small neighborhood a few minutes' walk from the main house.

Also, if Carbonne is too busy for you, there are at least two little villages just downstream of here that are more charming and peaceful. Noe' and Mauzac struck me as just beautiful, and property values there aren't yet rising like those in Carbonne. On the other hand, residents have few shops and services.

So we suggest you spend some time here and get into the rhythm of our little town.


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