In a previous podcast, Jen spoke about the weird and wonderful world of ‘la bise’, which for new-comers to France is never easy to manage, especially if you’re a girl in St Gilles-les-Bains and you don’t particularly fancy kissing the local tramp…
As for us boys, we have a similar dilemma related to greetings, but this one is very specific to Reunion: the fist-bump. Question 1: what exactly is it? Well, the perfect well-oiled fist-bump is a thing of beauty, with both participants ready to first slap hands, then form a fist and bang them both together, with style and nonchalance. But for new-comers to Reunion, this is rarely as easy as it seems.
This brings us to question 2: why is it difficult? Well, the problem is that you never know if the other person is going to fist-bump or simply shake hands. Like normal people. Which means you either end up going for the formal hand-shake and grabbing a wet fish which is already slipping away and preparing the fist-bump, or, horror of horrors, you end up slapping a firm handshake and the fist-bump hits the ends of their bemused fingertips.
So, question 3: how do you know which one to do? THAT is the trickiest of all! Charting my own progress, I would say that after two weeks in Reunion, I thought the fist-bump was a comedy reference to gangster rappers by the Erasmus students I had met in St Denis. After two months, I was joining in but getting it wrong every time – I was either horribly unfashionable or painfully embarrassing. After two years, I started to get it right. For once, it’s not all about watching the other people around you and copying them – someone may bump fists with their friends, but that doesn’t mean you’ll get the same treatment yourself.
Anyway, at first I felt awkward – it is NOT a very British custom, as most Brits would rather look like Borat than Booba. But after fifteen years here, I now know that it means many things, such as friendship, acceptance, and complicity.
A final question: where does the fist-bump come from? I’m sure there are several theories, but most people I have asked say that it comes from teenage boys at school here, with different groups having their own secret handshake. As they left school, it continued. This must have been a long time ago, because I sometimes see guys in their fifties who greet each other like that.
But, like with Jen’s kissing experience, it’s just another part of Reunionese life. As the saying goes, When in Rome, do as the Romans. Or rather, ‘When in Reunion, chill out and bump fists.’
to fist-bump = checker
weird = bizarre
new-comers = nouveaux arrivants
tramp = clochard
well-oiled = bien-huilé
to slap = claquer
fist = poing
to shake hands = serrer la main
to grab = saisir
to slip = glisser
bemused = perplexe
fingertips = bout des doigts
the trickiest = le plus difficile
to join in = participer
awkward = gauche
the fifties = les cinquantaines
greet = saluer
as the saying goes = comme dit le dicton
to chill out = se détendre