There's always talk of how many working hours are lost each year through strikes, absenteeism, illness etc etc. but the French Government never posts statistics on how economic productivity takes a daily knee in the nuts through that most widespread work-stopper: kissing.
Turn up to work in Britain and you'll probably raise a cheerful hand and a smile to acknowledge colleagues before heading off to the canteen for your last coffee before desk time. In France, you kiss everyone, male or female. Don't get me wrong; I'm not talking Richard Burton/Liz Taylor-like smooches (more's the pity, sometimes), but a quick peck on each cheek, sometimes twice on each one depending on what part of the country you're from. I always put a hand on the other person's shoulder, though this is by no means compulsory. It's a delightful social form and a great leveller, even if you basically don't do it to the Managing Director. A group of about thirty of us all met up outside our workplace this afternoon. By the time everyone had kissed everyone else and exchanged niceties, ten minutes had elapsed. Multiply this by the active workforce puckering up at least twice every working day and you can imagine how many more billions would be sloshing around the French economy if people adopted a more presbyterian greeting. And imagine how much poorer we'd all be for it, too. Taken on a really basic level, there's something wonderful about delaying plunging into the labour pit to indulge in a little physical contact with a fellow human being. You also recognise colleagues as flesh-and-blood entities and not solely human elements in a profit-orientated chain. I don't suppose many French people think directly about this when they bemoan the erosion of their quality of life by Big Business, but, as an outsider, it's one of the first things about living here that I think of. May we all delay our economic productivity until we've landed smackers on everyone we know.