We know that the French love to kiss, but did you realise that “la bise” when saying hello and goodbye is so much a part of the culture that it is almost rude not to indulge. “La bise etiquette” is often discussed by the French and can certainly be quite a mystery to foreigners. Here is our low-down on this tricky but charming French habit.
What is “la bise”?
French people very often kiss each other on the cheek when saying hello and goodbye. This is called “faire la bise”. When kissing, you should touch the other person’s face with your cheek (don’t actually kiss the other person’s cheek) and make a kissing sound – if you don’t make a sound it is considered rude! Most people start with the left cheek.
You should also put your hand on the arm of the person before and while kissing the person to show your affection for them. If you wear glasses, taking them off when kissing someone with glasses as well is appreciated but not compulsory.
Full lesson here with France 24.
Number of kisses
The number of kisses (“bises” or “bisous”) people give varies according to the region and the social class. The average number is two, but it can go up to four – generally, the further south you go, the more kisses you give.
Upper classes tend to restrict themselves to two while working classes are likely to go for four.
This can be tricky, but it may make you feel better to know that the French often don’t know how many kisses are appropriate.
Who to kiss when?
As a general rule, French people do “la bise” to nearly everybody they meet in an informal context. Here are a few rules:
– Women tend to kiss everyone – men and women.
– Men kiss only close friends and family members. Otherwise they will shake hands.
– Kids always kiss even if they don’t know the person well.
– At work, kiss colleagues you are on “tu” (familiar version of “you”) terms with. Don’t kiss someone senior to you unless they have initiated it.
– When arriving at or leaving a party, dinner party or any social event, do “la bise” or shake hands to say hello and goodbye – this can be quite lengthy. Even French people can find it a hassle (especially when leaving) and will just say “bye everyone” when there is a lot of people.
Faire la bise = to kiss each other
Faire un bisou = to give one kiss (informal)
Serrer la main = to shake hands