One of the ways that French people great each other is with a kiss (no, not a French kiss!). Depending on the region, you kiss each other on the cheek, or more correctly touch cheeks and make a kissing noise, two to four times. It’s called the bise (sounds like bees) and is short for bisou (bee-zoo), or kiss. Women do the bise to other women and to men, but men only shake hands unless their very good friends or family. Either way, there is always physical contact when people see each other.
To illustrate how important and pervasive this cultural habit is, I’ll tell you this story from yesterday. I was driving home from the grocery store and the car in front of me actually stopped, in the middle of the road, so that the driver could do the bise with a guy walking down the street. It’s like waving to people you know, but holding up traffic at the same time!
People just have the reflex to do the bise with others which is why, when you break the convention, it’s a bit disconcerting. I’ve been sick lately, and beyond not wanting to give others my cold, our new workplace precautions against the H1N1 flu bug advise against touching others. So no bise for me, which means that people have a bit of a jolt when I back away from them. “No bise? OK!” they say, waving their arms in front of their faces. “Pas de problÃ¨me!” They agree, but they have to think about it for a minute first.
It’s made me think about how much harder it is to live the frugal life and try not to spend a lot of money when we live in a society that encourages such a large amount of consumption. There is a trend towards frugality at the moment, but I wonder how long it is going to last, when all we hear is: Cheaper. Better. Newer. More.
France isn’t quite as overboard as the United States when it comes to consumerism, shopping, buying and buying more, but the push towards buying and having more and more exists and is getting stronger. There are clothing store chains that have sales like ‘Buy one, get four free’ which adds a whole new twist to the BOGO offer!
I find it easier to be frugal when I’m with other people who are frugal. Many of my friends are also trying to save money, live within their means and so on. Part of this is due to circumstances (most of us have young kids, and don’t have the energy to do much shopping, let alone the money) and part of it is due to conviction (paying off credit cards= good; carrying debt= bad).
Changing the habit of spending money heedlessly is something that most of us have been working on for a while. We might not be perfect at it (not yet, anyways), but it’s getting easier, at least for me. I’ve stopped buying things online, stopped shopping as a hobby, started grocery shopping from a list. I don’t have expensive hobbies anymore, don’t buy DVDs or CDs, go out to concerts and movies.
There are still two big areas where I need to improve. The first is eating out at fast food restaurants, because I haven’t planned a real meal and we’re stuck for time (or I think we are, at least!). The second, is that little voice in the back of my head that says “It’s OK, you can always put it on the credit card and pay it off later.” I don’t, but like doing the bise, it’s a habit that’s hard to break!
And you? What bad financial habits have you been trying to break?