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About Me:Hi I’m Nadege and I study French at the University of Leeds, and I have just completed my third year abroad in Montpellier studying literature and enjoying the sunshine! I love art; painting and being creative, as well as photography and baking. Travelling is my favourite hobby at the moment; experiencing the French language and culture. I hope you enjoy reading some of my articles!
It is often the case that many foreigners are unsure how to “faire la bise” which means to greet someone by kissing them on the cheek - the standard greeting in France. Who knew that kissing someone on the cheek could be so complicated! Many thoughts entered my mind when first arriving in France…how many times do I kiss? Which cheek to I begin with? Do I ever shake hands in formal situations?
Between family, friends, colleagues and people you meet for the first time, through a friend for example, the typical greeting will be to faire la bise. However, between some men, la bise is less common, yet many still do kiss each other on the cheek. I have noticed in France that between teenagers, men greet each other by doing a ‘double low-five’. I am not too sure how to explain this without the gesture, but it is a greeting men do which involves tapping the other man's hand twice, like a high-five gesture, but with their palm facing upwards. It is as if they would greet with a hand-shake but instead slap hands twice. I have never seen this before but it is very popular in France between male teenagers, groups of male friends and some men!
In very formal situations, you would not 'faire la bise', such as in a working environment; with teachers, staff, employers etc. In these situations, you would greet with a hand-shake. When I first arrived in France, I greeted my land-lady with a hand-shake and she seemed very surprised and greeted me with three kisses on the cheek. I knew then how popular the bise really was!
Take a look at IMAGE 1 to see how many kisses people greet each other with throughout France, ranging between 1 and 5 (the statistic states that 18% of people kiss five times in Corsica). In my experience, I have found that most often, people kiss once, twice or three times and in Montpellier, the norm is to kiss on the cheek three times. Even when coming out of lectures at University friends will say hello to one another by doing la bise, and when you have to wait for each person to kiss each other three times on the cheek, coming out of classes can take a long time!
I have been told that you always start la bise with the first kiss being on the right side of the person’s face, that way you do not get yourself into awkward situations! However, there is still an uncertainty as to whether someone will kiss you three times, and which side of the face they begin with – everyone in France will have an embarrassing story involving la bise!
I must add that la bise is not actually a kiss on the cheek; it is simply pressing your face against someone’s cheek and kissing the air, while making a kissing sound. Additionally, I have asked French people why they greet in this way, because I find it a very intimate form of greeting which at times is slightly uncomfortable. In my opinion, English people are very distant to one another…we simply say hello or wave, whilst maybe hugging a close friend. For French people however, they find la bise less intimate that hugging someone! Also, beware – French people will do la bise in any situation. Yes, they expect you to get up while you’re eating and greet them with three kisses! I have had awkward encounters whilst eating my dinner and kissing someone on the cheek at the same time - not the most pleasant thing to do with a mouth full of food! But yes, French people – no matter what you may be doing, always expect you to greet them otherwise you appear rude. My excuse in awkward situations is that I am English, and they then understand that we are not used to greeting people in this way. La bise is nevertheless a very welcoming greeting and one which is part of the French etiquette.
IMAGE 1 URL