Touch, in and of its nature, is extremely personal. The touch of someone you love whether in the form of a bearhug, a foot nudge or a bisou (kiss) means something very special. When you’re in a country not your own, there are many things to learn about personal proximity and what barriers should and should not be crossed in order to make one’s cultural-immersion process successful. This is the fourth of five entries on senses and what France feels like.

I am in the middle of a love affair with my shower. The water is hot and the water pressure just a little pathetic. I love the feeling of clean. When I walk to class, I slide my hand over the railing covered in graffiti, the metal smooth and gliding under my fingers. The wind tosses whatever work I put into my hair out the window, but I delight in its caress anyway. Sometimes, like this morning, the raindrops speckle my face and make me shiver.

The satiny soft feel of a giant red sweet pepper is so unique.

When I ride the tram in the busy hours, even my nearly non-existent bubble of personal space is popped. People are crammed with everything from children to dogs to bicycles to the most enormous suitcases I have ever seen. Passengers push and shove without reserve. The feeling of being a sardine in a tin can of the tram is overwhelming. I detest the feeling of packed sardine-like trams. However, when we travel somewhere and we take the regional trains, the feeling of rocking is almost lullaby-like and in combination with the soft seat covers and a full day of travels, it’s difficult not to be rocked asleep with your head on your friend’s shoulder.

The woolen blankets on my bed filled me with repulsion the first time I encountered them, but after almost 2 months of living here, I have grown to love them. I may even miss their scratchy-fuzzy texture and the remarkable warmth that crawling under them gives.

The cultural kisses (bises) here scared me half to death before arriving. The thought of kissing a complete stranger was so foreign and bizarre that I wasn’t sure I could do it. Heck, I’d bearhug a person before lightly brushing my lips to their cheek any day! But when I got here, it seemed so natural that I couldn’t help falling in love with the bises. In France, when you are introduced to someone, the proper thing is not to shake their hand but lightly touch your cheek to theirs and make a small kiss sound. Bises are sweet and unattached, and if the person you’re “bising” happens to be unshaven, it’s prickly. If you know the person well, it’s okay to hold the other person’s upper arm or touch their shoulder.

Touch is important, but it’s just as important to touch the lives of others around us in non-tactile ways. Verbal encouragement, a listening ear, a random act of kindness or even just a small smile can make all the difference to someone, and the joy of such interaction is remarkable.

My wonderful friends who touch my life every day.

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