2004… in an office building in one of the northern suburbs of Paris…
“Listen, Snow” said my Finnish boss, young like me but better versed in the mysterious ways of the French. She had been there longer. I was a brand new intern.
“Some of our colleagues are wondering if you hate them…”
“Whaaat? What do you mean?” I managed.
“Well, you haven’t given them all bises each morning.”
“But I do give them bises! Not everyone of course but the ones I chat with and who sit nearby.”
“That’s exactly it. You know, they expect you to do the rounds, like everyone else does.”
“What? Like go around on both floors of the office building and kiss everyone on the cheek! Hahah!! How long would that take me, 25 minutes each morning?! It’d be 9:30 before I’d be sitting at my desk!” I laughed at the absurdity.
“Besides, I don’t know anyone on the other floor,” I added quite smartly.
“They all know you’re the new intern though you’ve never met, and they expect you to say hi to them each morning – to each one of them individually. And it doesn’t matter if it takes 30 minutes. Everyone does it! No one works during the first half hour after they arrive!”
“So you want me to kiss everybody, every morning, are you kidding me?!”
Just then, we heard a pop and a champagne cork flew from somewhere.
“Oh hey, I forgot! It’s Angélique’s sister’s birthday so she’s offering us all an apéro before lunch! Come on! And please promise me you’ll start the bise rounds first thing tomorrow morning.”
And so yet another day started with kir royale on an empty stomach, after which work flew by quite nicely, and at lunch time everyone was invited to go together to a nearby restaurant. Wine was served and lunch took 1-2 hours. Everyone worked very late in the evenings to compensate.
You live, you learn! The complete opposite way of working than what I had known back home. A dozen jobs later, it still seems like a dream.
But I never did do those cheek kiss rounds.