What an experience! Before coming to France I understood the concept, you kiss each other on the cheeks.
Seems simple enough.
But then there are all these funny boundaries that you didn't know were there before — it turns out that it's as awkward as going in for that first kiss of your life and not knowing if the other person is ok with it. And then, it's terrifying as you move in to kiss because no one ever knows which cheek to kiss first, which could result in both turning the same direction and your simple kiss on the cheek becomes horrifyingly close to real smakeroo on the lips!!! :O
After a few of these heart-stopping efforts, I decided that I would just wait for others to initiate the bise, rather than trying to do anything about it myself. But by never offering to bise I found out that other people are shy about it too. Unfortunately it didn't just stop there, we couldn't just be friends in our evasion of the bise. No, in fact it made others feel bad because I didn't ever say 'hello' and they started giving me the cold shoulder. They took my shyness about the bise to be a personal offense and thought I was giving them the cold shoulder on purpose! Ahh! That's not at all what I wanted! Rather, I wanted to be friends and to be accepted into this culture, because it is a culture where you only really start to understand after you've been initiated, and UNDERSTANDING was my goal.
So, after some pep talks and swallowing my awkwardness, I made a firm resolution to always initiate the bise. I decided I'd systematically offer my left cheek first hold firm so they would be the one to juggle side to side if there was any confusion. That helped. And soon when I walked into a room it was with lots of smiles, Hello!'s and bises, rather than silent nods and trying to look preoccupied. You might say that learning to bise changed my whole French world. :D