I was 27 years old when I discovered it, Le French Kiss.

A bit of a late bloomer, especially for a woman française, but there I was, an exchange student ready to embrace America. To the American Dream, a virgin.

I was standing in the middle of a campus américain – University of Nebraska-Lincoln – when Becky Thomas popped la question.

“What’s that thing you do with your French boyfriend?”

We’d spent an hour at the library where entre nous, she’d disrobed for me the bare truth about catalogues. But still, I’d known her a whopping forty-eight hours. Wasn’t that a little too soon to get up close and personal?

“Eh…” I began, “you mean, my boyfriend, mon petit ami?”

“Yeah, what’s that thing you do with him, you know…”

“Hmm… hmm…” There we were again. Just because I was French, people assumed I knew all the sex secrets of the Parisian vamp. Ever since I’d arrived in the US, I’d fended my petite person off hungry looks from not-so-subtle suitors quick to serenade me with Patti Labelle’s song “Lady Marmalade” and its suggestive lyrics, “Do you want to sleep with me (tonight)?”“Voulez-vous coucher avec moi (ce soir)?”

So I was utterly disappointed when even my librarian escort nosed her way into a ménage à trois with mon petit ami. I kept my tongue still, looked at my watch.

Relentless, she insisted: “You know, when you kiss him?”

She put a finger to her mouth. Then with a roll of the tongue thicker than melted Brie, she asked: “KKKommentttsappelllllle-le-French-kiss?”

She wanted to know the name of… “What?” I asked. “Le French kiss? Qu’est-ce que c’est?

She rolled her eyes, let out a sigh and said in a breath: “You know, the thing you do when you kiss him on the mouth.”

At that moment I knew how my mother felt when, at sixteen, I’d asked her the question on the tip of my tongue: “How does one kiss on the mouth?”

I stared at my American friend with eyes bigger than French crèpes. Then it dawned upon me. Unbeknownst to me, all those years I’d been doing it with mon petit ami in my native tongue: le baiser français.

Le French Kiss.

Although proud to know the French invented “Le Kiss,” I bit my tongue not to ask the obvious: “Doesn’t your American boyfriend, you know…?” Instead, I said: “You don’t need to speak French to kiss it.”

It’s been over thirty years since my “French kiss” was deflowered. So I don’t mind the French Sex Goddess stereotype as much – that is, when it still comes my way. And if asked to translate the untranslatable, I’m no longer tongue-tied. I know that French fries are, well, simply les frites, and not to be confused with home fries, patates sautées. Without a slip of the tongue, I say the French call their salad dressing, vinaigrette. And if you don’t like pain perdu, ‘lost bread,’ those thick slices of day-old French baguette dipped in egg batter…

You’re toast!

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