I Have to Kiss Strangers?! A Guide to the French “Bise”

Before I began working in France, I was perplexed by the idea of the “bise”. What is a bise you ask? This is the kiss on the cheek that is an extremely common greeting in France. In France, people usually “faire la bise” upon greeting their friends, coworkers, acquaintances, or even strangers. To a foreigner, it can be stressful determining whether a greeting deserves a bise, and how many kisses are warranted. I remember the first time I met my fellow teachers and how much anxiety I had over whether I was using the proper technique.

To determine whether you should bise upon greeting someone, you need to think about your relationship with the person you are greeting. Are they a close friend or someone you barely know? A good way to determine whether a bise is warranted is based on what verb tense you would use to speak to the person. Would it be formal or informal? Usually if you are speaking informally, you would be close enough to bise. This gesture is most common between two women or a man and a woman; however two men who are very close may “faire la bise”.

Now that you know who to kiss, you need to consider what part of France you are in. The number of kisses varies by region. Two bises (one on each cheek) is the most common, however in Nantes, the standard practice is four bises! In the region where I was living, Poitou- Charentes, anyone who has met previously only does one bise. This I learned the hard way when I went in for the second cheek but was met with air. I caught on quickly after that! I included a map below which shows the regions of France and how many bises are standard.

The best thing to do when greeting someone in France is to follow their technique and you can never go wrong! Now if you visit France, you can impress the locals with your knowledge on how to “faire la bise”.


TOPIC: Cultural Differences
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