If you’re wondering how to greet in French, either through handshakes or kisses, you are at the right place. Today, you’ll learn how to navigate the rules surrounding the French famous “bise”.
In this blog post, we’ll explore a modern-day practice of the French kiss or “la bise”, including tips on navigating the sometimes-tricky social rules around this for some peculiar act.
So if you’re curious about the art of “faire la bise,” in France read on.
Understanding French Body Language
Body language is also communicating, and should not be underestimated, especially if we are beginner French learners. Body language is made of gestures, facial expressions, eye contact, posture, and other physical movements that help us convey emotions, thoughts, and intentions.
Your posture and attitude can speak volumes before you say anything, influencing people’s opinions based on your gestures and how you stand.
French people tend to be more restrained in their movements compared to Americans. They maintain an upright chest, and a horizontal pelvis, and keep their shoulders still with their arms close to their body.
There are those who describe it as being tense or rigid, and this adds to the perception that the French are distant and not hospitable.
As they tend to move their body less, the French can come across as unfriendly. It also explains the fact why the French tend to wear narrow and tight clothes.
Due to their reserved body language, the French tend to rely more heavily on verbal expression as a means of communication, whereas Americans tend to require more physical space for movement.
If you are interested in learning more polite phrases, you’ll love our article on Expressing Your Wants Politely
Handshake or Faire la Bise?
The most common way to greet someone in France is by either shaking hands or doing “la bise” (the kiss on the cheek).
Handshaking is a customary practice in formal environments, typically between colleagues or individuals who have recently become acquainted. On the other hand, “la bise” is more common in personal situations between friends, family, and people you know well.
However, the number of kisses can vary depending on the region in France; some people do two kisses, some three, and others four. To avoid accidentally kissing the person on the lips, it’s best to pay attention to the other person’s body language and follow their lead.
Tilt your body forward and gently touch your cheeks with the other person while simulating a kissing motion with your lips and making a smooching sound. Then, switch cheeks and repeat.
A French handshake should be brisk and firm, with one or two up-and-down movements while looking the other person straight.
Learn more about how to politely Express Doubt and Possibilities in French
How Many Kisses do French do?
Ah! Here’s another important question in French. How many kisses on the cheek are considered a norm in France?
You might think you have an answer, but wait the number of kisses or “bises” can vary depending on the region or the relationship between the individuals.
In general, two kisses on the cheek are the most common in France, one on each cheek.
However, some regions may do three or four kisses, while others may only do one.
Two kisses are customary in Paris, Bordeaux, and Toulouse, while in the South near Marseille and Montpellier, as well as in the North near Lille, people usually exchange three kisses. In western France near Nantes, four kisses are the norm, which might seem like a lot to some.
It’s always best to follow the lead of the person you’re greeting and adapt accordingly.
While you try to remember all these rules about kissing in French, enjoy this funny video about French Bise, and learn when, where and whom to kiss in French.
When Not to Kiss?
There are certain situations when giving a bise is not appropriate:
- If you’re feeling unwell, it’s best to avoid bises as they can spread germs, and it’s considerate to inform others about your condition.
- A handshake is generally more suitable when meeting someone in a professional setting.
Kissing like a French
In contemporary France, “la bise” is guided by a set of social norms that are quite strict and may require some time to adjust to.
Note that “la bise” serves as both a greeting and a farewell gesture and is almost ceremonial in nature.
In contrast to Anglophone cultures, a casual “hey” or “see ya” is not sufficient.
Learn more about the French Art of Subtle Communication.