La bise

This funny post by petite anglaise reminded me that after my jaunt in Dunkirk, I wanted to write a post on the delicate subject of kissing.
The two-year project I’ve been part of as an interpreter is coming to an end in February. The French and English partners have had eight two-day meetings, plus several individual meetings with only some of them. Consequently, we all know each other quite well and have formed friendly relationships.
There is definite warmth there, which complicates things when it comes to greeting. A stiff handshake satisfied everyone in the beginning, but we have all become more comfortable with each other, and I’ve noticed the French have slowly been reverting to their natural habit, which is two pecks on the cheeks to say hello. So when our French host welcomed us last week, I noticed a movement, only to be spotted by a French eye: she was going to kiss the English partner I was standing next to. He remained firm.
The English were, obviously, keeping their distance while cheerily greeting her. I’m not sure why, but I felt bad. I might have overstepped my role as an interpreter, but I charged forward and kissed her, which caused the usual domino effect. After all, she was on her home turf, it was only fair to play by her usual rules. I know the English partners probably cursed me inwardly when I did that, but I could see our French host was a lot more comfortable.
Check out this great kiss map of France to know how many kisses are expected according to different regions. I have no idea if it’s accurate or not, but it could prove very useful!
I’m off for a bit. I wish you all a great holiday, whatever it means wherever you are!

By | 2016-10-18T15:51:32+00:00 December 17th, 2004|Interpreting|6 Comments

About the Author:

I am Céline Graciet, a freelance English to French translator. Since 2003 I’ve been writing on all sorts of areas linked to translation and the life of a translator.


  1. Jean December 17, 2004 at 10:15 am

    Celine, good for you! I can’t think of anything better you could do for your British colleagues – with discretion of course, and only in situation where, as you describe, there is genuine warmth. I worked with latins for many years and find it natural to hug and kiss colleagues; refuse to give up on this, and continue to try and spread it around. Mostly it is appreciated, only a few look very uncomfortable, and I’m sure they’ll survive! But only where there is genuine warmth which seems to merit it. Extravagant rituals of kissing people I don’t like I can do without. If, with ever greater mixing, globalisation etc, we can build a lovely mixture, with greater warmth and physicality, but also more choice and less obligation, then I will be happy. Well, at least we can try.

  2. Johanka December 17, 2004 at 1:57 pm

    The map’s great! I haven’t had an idea something like this is possible to find! Btw, may I ask which region do you come from?

  3. céline December 17, 2004 at 2:08 pm

    Jean: The Brits were ok really, it’s just a bit nerve-wracking for them (which way do I go, how many etc.) I like kissing and I like hugging even more (not in work situations!), which is much more common in England than in France, in my experience.
    Johanka: I know, I love the map too! There are some clever people out there. And the author lives in Toulouse, where I studied for 3 years and which I love, so I’m all chuffed I found his blog. I come from the Basque south-west corner of the Aquitaine region (itself in the south-west).

  4. language hat December 17, 2004 at 11:15 pm

    Thanks for the map and the story; happy holidays (et beaucoup de bises)!

  5. Blogging in Paris December 26, 2004 at 9:18 am

    Les bises /(French) kissing

    thoroughly enjoyed this post by Céline Graciet, a French born translator who lives in England. It reminded me so much of episodes when I was in the UK or in the States and had trouble deciding whether I should shake hands with people, give a h…

  6. gordsellar December 27, 2004 at 8:33 am

    One of the big adjustments I went through moving from Montreal (two bizes, one on each cheek) to Korea (my God, kissing someone in public?) was, well, the reservation of the people. Holding hands with a partner has only been acceptable (between Koreans, it’s still dicey in places between a Korean and a foreigner like myself) for a few years now. And of course you would never, ever kiss someone you weren’t romantically involved with. Not even a peck, or a bize. Not even your parents. Yes, I know people who have never given their parents even a little peck. Ever.
    Ah, the other interesting thing is that Korean has a word close to bize, well, kind of, but not a word that exclusively means “baiser” in the sense meaning “kiss”. Bbo-Bbo (which sounds closer to PoPo, but with a little more stress on the consonants and a little more like a really hard B than a P) is a little fluid, sometimes meaning “a peck on the cheek” and sometimes meaning “very hot French kissing” or the like.
    However, often young people seem to mean Bbo-Bbo to mean something cute and sweet and nice, and a borrowed English word, “Kis-suh” to mean something more sexy. Or so is my observation, out here in the countryside.

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