In France, greeting your French friends can be a complicated matter for foreigners. Rather than shaking hands, waving hello or hugging, you lean forward, touch cheeks and
How To Faire La Bise And Greet Like A French Person:
The Fine Art of La Bise ( L’art de la bise)
Cheek kissing (La Bise) is practically institutionalized from Childhood In France.
Just as you would encourage your child to say hello or goodbye, or to shake hands, French parents across France encourage their children to “cheek
Throughout this article, I refer to “cheek
My first bise (
French Kiss Greeting) was terrifying.
When our family moved to France back in 2011, we didn’t know anyone so greeting someone new was easy with a simple hello, a wave from afar or a firm handshake. For 10 months, we lived our lives, never having to “Faire la bise.”
We moved and started making Friends
10 months after moving to Marseille France, we decided Marseille wasn’t for us so we moved to La Garde, a charmingly picturesque town in Provence (pictured above). It’s the kind of town you imagine when you think of France. Old ladies carrying baguettes, a big medieval church and a decaying castle at the top of a hill. The type of place where everyone seemed to know everyone else. And then there was “us”.
We had a nice routine and so did our three children who attended three different schools; Kieran was in high school, Andre attended middle school and our Catherine, our youngest was in preschool.
Every morning, my husband I got dressed and eagerly walked our daughter to school. It was less than a 5-minute walk but we lived in the medieval part of the town, where people always seemed to be shuffling around trying to get someplace.
Two days a week, there was an open market that we had to walk through to get to our daughter’s school. We would always stop at the market on our way home to buy produce, meat, cheese or whatever we needed. It was convenient and it felt so French.
We often crossed paths with our neighbours and other parents at that market and eventually, we became good friends with one of the vendors who sold plants and flowers. He sells shiitake mushrooms and strawberries now at La Serre du Plan. Pictured below is Blake with his arm on our Friend Ferry from the market and his Wife Alex.
We were becoming part of the community and made friends..
One morning, we saw someone we knew, only this time; instead of a nod and a hello, followed by some light chit chat, she said “Allez, on se fait la bise!” and she leaned in to give me a cheek
That first cheek
I had seen hundreds of people greet each other with a cheek
I kid you not, I leaned in a little too quickly, with such force that my cheek crashed into hers. OOOPS, désolé.
After that, I had so many questions.
- How do you know how many cheek kisses to give? Is it by age?
- Which cheek do you start with, the left or the right?
- Do you have to make that kissing sound when you cheek
- Who initiates the first cheek
- And so many more questions.
**NOTE: All of what I explain below is either from personal experience, research or advice given to me by my French friends here in the South of France.
FRENCH ETIQUETTE: Rules and best practices on “How To Faire La Bise.”
Luckily I have amazing French friends who gladly answered my burning questions about the “RULES” for cheek kissing and greeting other people in France.
I was surprised to find that many of my friend’s answers regarding la bise varied, and not everyone agreed on la bise rules.
But that’s OK because there was enough overlap to come up with some general best practices to faire la bise like a pro.
Here’s everything you need to know, the unsaid rules and general best practices for greeting a French person in France with La Bise.
You might be interested in reading:
1) Step by step directions for la bise.
- Slowly lean Forward turning your cheek as if you’re offering it to the other person: The other person will do the same.
- Lightly touch your cheek to the other person’s cheek. It’s important your cheeks touch!
- Pucker your lips slightly
- Make a soft kissing sound only with your lips. (not your voice, see note below on what not to do)
- ¤Some people also put their right or left hand on the other person’s shoulder as they lean into cheek
- ¤Some people remove eyeglasses or hat: Optional but polite and can avoid poking out an eye.
What not to do: NEVER do this:
- Never touch your lips to their cheek; it’s cheek to cheek.
- DO NOT make the MWUAH” sound with your voice that so many anglophone speakers make. The kissing sound is from your lips, not your voice. My husband, to this day, still makes that sound, and people snicker at him.
No, this is NOT how you do “la bise.”
2) Which cheek- left or right?
There is debate as to which cheek you offer up first; right or your left?. Don’t worry too much about this because French people are receptive to these nuances and movements and adjust quickly.
I did notice that more of my friends turned their head to the left so that the first bise landed on the right cheek. I said most, not all, so just go with the flow.
3) How many cheek kisses: 1, 2, 3, 4 or more?
- When we lived in Provence, my friends gave me 2 cheek kisses, one on each side.
- In Paris, most people also give 2 kisses, but some give as many 5 cheek kisses.
- In Montpellier, 63 km (39 mi) south of our old home in Provence, my friends and I exchange 3 cheek kisses.
- It can be confusing when someone from one region where 2 cheek kisses are the norm, travels to another region where 3 kisses are the norm. This happens to us a lot since we’ve lived in several different regions. sometimes, you lean in for the third and that person has already pulled away because they are used to only 2 kisses, but I digress.
Why the discrepancy in the number of cheek kisses?
The number of cheek kisses you exchange with someone depends on the region you find yourself in. To make matters even more confusing, there are discrepancies even by region.
Don’t worry if this sounds confusing because even the French get confused. There’s a website devoted to gathering user feedback about whether they give 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 kisses –www.combiendebises.free.fr/. The website’s name translates to “How many kisses.”
Some people speculate that younger people are leaning more towards 2 kisses while the older generation is hanging on to giving 4 even 5 kisses.
I have yet to meet someone who gives 4 or 5 kisses, but then again, I live in the south where 2 and 3 kisses prevail.
4) When and with whom should you faire la bise?
The level of friendship and type of relationship you have with someone usually determines whether you should faire la bise.
You would not cheek-
La bise varies by relationship and social situations:
Between friends and acquaintances:
As your relationship grows into a friendship, at some point, you will shift from saying hello or a handshake and start giving your friends la bise. One day you can be saying hello or shaking hands, and the next day, that same person could be leaning in to
kissyou. From then on out, you will always faire la bise with that person out of politeness. There is no written rule for when you make the transition; it just happens. In the beginning, my friends were the ones to initiate the first bise, but now that I understand the nuances, I sometimes initiate the first bise with new friends.
Between family members:
Families almost always greet one another with la bise, but the bise you give to a family member might be a little more intense or more familiar. It’s similar to how you might hug your child, mom or best friend a little tighter. Many families also give cheek kisses first thing in the morning and then again at night before going to bed.
Between co-workers and colleagues:
If you have a job in France, you may eventually end up cheek kissing your co-workers. This isn’t always the case. It depends on the working relationship you have with that person. For instance, you won’t give everyone at the office la bise—just the ones you regularly see that you might even consider friends.
However, you shouldn’t give your boss la bise, even if you regularly see that person, unless he or she leans in first to give you la bise. Then there is the issue of gender. It’s customary for women to greet men and women with a
kisson each cheek. While male co-workers may kissclose male friends, they generally shake hands with male colleagues. It just depends.
The social status of the other person:
If the other person is of a higher social status than you, wait for that person to initiate. I once was introduced to the mayor. If he had leaned in to
kissmy cheeks, I would have leaned in also, but I would never initiate in that case.
young people in primary school generally don’t greet one another with a
kiss; however, in my experience, parents encourage or push their kids to faire la bise with other kids when invited to their house. Teenagers are a different story. My son’s friends all greet one another with la bise just as adults do.
What about Men?:
Yes, even men greet one another with la bise but not quite nearly as often as it happens between two women or a woman and a man. Usually, men reserve la bise for very close friends and family. For instance, there are only two men my husband does la bise with. With every other male, he shakes hands, and this is perfectly acceptable.
5) Special circumstances where you may
kiss a stranger.
As I mentioned before, you only do la bise with friends or people you know well; however, there are exceptions where it’s considered “la politesse” to faire la bise even when you don’t know the other person.
Friends of friends:
If two strangers are introduced to one another by a mutual friend, those two strangers can choose to greet that other person with la bise. It’s not obligatory. You can choose to shake hands, but don’t be surprised if the other person leans in for a cheek
kiss, which brings me to social situations.
When Invited To A Friends House:
If a friend invites you to their house, you usually faire la bise on entry. If there are other people in the house, you typically faire la bise with everyone at the party, even if you’rere meeting them for the first time. It’s also acceptable to shake hands, but usually, if someone invites you to their house, it’s acceptable to transition to La bise.
When invited to a small social gathering or social setting:
If someone invites you to a small house party with a dozen or so people, the group is small enough where you can go around giving La bise while introducing yourself by name. We do this regularly, even if people are seated around a diner table. You make your way around the table by saying “bonjour” and saying your name if you don’t know that person. They will do the same.
At larger social settings:
If you are invited to a larger gathering, say 25 or more people, or where it’s impossible to greet everyone at once because they’re spread out throughout the house, it’s acceptable to faire la bise as you come in contact with each person at the gathering, but not necessary.
6) Other situations and nuances about la bise
We talked about greeting someone with a cheek
If you are at a person’s house, you do la bise upon entering and to everyone in the house and then again when you leave to say goodbye.
If you run into a friend on the street, you would typically stop and faire la bise and continue on your merry way. If you run into them again later on in the day, you do not give another cheek
At a birthday party:
I’ve been to a lot of children’s birthday parties in France. The birthday boy or girl usually gives “la bise” to the other children after opening the gifs. It’s a way of saying thank you for coming and bringing me a gift.
To congratulate someone:
You can also faire la bise to congratulate someone for anything that seems “bise” worthy: a job promotion, for a milestone, birthday, etc.
On New Years at at the stroke of midnight.
At the stroke of midnight, everyone goes around wishing one another “Bonne Année” (happy new year) followed by la bise.
You should read:
How to avoid la bise:
The art of la bise may sound confusing but it gets easier and will feel like second nature to you with a little practice. Now when I return home to see my family in Montreal, where la bise is not really practiced, it feels strange not to faire la bise.
If you really do not want to “faire la bise” with someone and want to avoid it like the plague, it’s very simple. Offer your hand for a handshake before the other person has a chance to lean in for la bise. It sets a precedence and a signal to the other person. And it’s perfectly fine to do that.