Faire la bise
Toolkit: Faire la bise
The French greeting almost always includes ‘la bise’. Integral to French society, its system and values, it is imperative that you learn the rules and regulations to ‘faire la bise’ or you might find yourself in a rather sticky situation..
To bise or not to bise … that is the question!
Meeting people, whether it be a new acquaintance or somebody that you have known for a long time, has its own set of rules in France!
If you are meeting someone that you don’t know, or meeting somebody in a business setting, you should shake their hand. This remains however quite a detached form of greeting and can additionally be used should you want to keep emotional distance from someone.
With friends or acquaintances your own age, or even with family friends you should ‘faire la bise’ as they say in French. Translated literally this expression means to give a kiss, however it is used mostly in reference to the French custom of kissing each cheek which is used to say hello or goodbye.
This ritual is different for everyone. Men usually font la bise with women, women do so too with other women. Some men who are very close friends or from the south would also font la bise with each other but if they do not know each other they may shake hands.
If you thought this was complicated already, the number of kisses also varies according to which region you are in. The most notable difference is between the north and the south where in the south you must kiss three times instead of the classic two times (one on each side) in the north. In some places too you only do one kiss, and some places in France you have to do as many as four kisses!!! According to French research, there is no established reasoning behind the number of kisses. Originating from tradition that varies from village to village, these regional cultures have been long established and will not change.
There is even a website in France called combiendebises.com where people rate the number of kisses they think they should give and which side of the face to start on according to the region … n’importe quoi!?
Things to bear in mind:
- Should you arrive late and miss the greeting ritual it is not unusual for everybody to stop what they are doing and you will go round and ‘faire la bise’ with every person in the room.
- One thing that the French really do not understand is the hug! Most people will not feel comfortable if you try to hug them, perhaps it is considered too intimate, or just not the done-thing in France so many will back off through fear of the unknown as your arms appear outstretched ready for a bear hug.
- Interesting fact: It is such a foreign concept that there is actually no word for ‘hug’ in French. The closest word is ‘calin’ but this translates better as ‘cuddle’ and holds a more romantic connotation than a hug.
These are the basic rules but if you are unsure… ‘faire ce que font les autres’ (essentially do what everyone else does!!) then you will hopefully avoid any awkwardness!