As we all know, the French kiss one another in greeting every time they meet.
It doesn't matter who you are - an acquaintance, a friend, a long lost lover - you are entitled to at least two, sometimes three or even four, light brushes of cheek against cheek.
The French do it with such ease and finesse. In the supermarket, the market, outside school, you see women and men greeting one another with a smile and des bises. It is effortless and charming.
I, on the other hand, am gauche. Much more at ease with a formal handshake, I view the approach of an imminent bisous with some trepidation. In Colombo, a truly cosmopolitan society of expats, people from all nationalities would embrace one another with a kiss on each cheek, which was fine until I found myself kissing other Brits. For me, anything more than a slight hand wave and a "how are you?" with a fellow Anglo-Saxon just feels wrong.
It is not simply the act of kissing that I find tricky. There is the hiatus after two when one hesitates a fraction of a second in case there should be more. In parts of France, two kisses are not enough, you must give three, four, even five are not unheard of. A Belgian friend always caught me out with his unexpected four which inevitably meant bumping noses. Not an elegant greeting.
I was in the market (see M is for Marche) with my son last week where we ran into his rugby teacher. Toby greeted him with a handshake (he is a lad after all) and I was just swapping my bag of veg from my right hand to my left in anticipation of a handshake when I realised he was aiming a bristly cheek at me. I am so English. I don't even know his name.
I am always caught out by small children I have never met who come to the house with Mum or sister or whoever. They step forward and stand on tiptoes, leaning towards me, and I look blankly back for a second or two before realising I am supposed to receive a kiss.
We must seem so rude and standoffish. I am not averse to kissing on meeting, I just forget. I find myself remembering, midway through a conversation and wondering if I should make amends now with a peck on the cheek. The thought that I have committed a faux pas distracts me from the conversation so I then compound the sin with that of not paying attention. And so it goes on.
They do say you can't teach an old dog new tricks, and I am afraid, in the matter of the French greeting, I am a very old dog who is taking a long time to learn!