The return of la bise

I touched on the difficult subject of kissing in France in my entry la bise published in 2004. This short video will be useful to any future visitor to my sometimes perplexing country (in French, no subtitles).

(via icpjones)

By | 2016-10-18T15:49:16+00:00 February 8th, 2009|Culture|7 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. Morgan February 8, 2009 at 8:14 pm

    Céline, I love your site. I wish I’d discovered it ages ago!
    Kissing is an infinite subject. Born in Leeds, I don’t ever remember anybody kissing anybody. Living in London, you have to add the single peck on the cheek to the list. And the socially-acceptable kiss on the lips (usually when it’s a man and a woman – but not always) – I’ve known this kiss to shock French friends.
    My mother is Swiss – on her side of the family it’s always 3 (unless it’s very close family, when it’s just as likely to be a single kiss on the lips.). When she returns from Swiss visits, she’s in bises x 3 mode, and then she gradually reduces the number as she settles back into English life.
    Incidentally, I spent some time working in Corrèze and nobody could explain the 2 or 4 question. Both seemed to coexist according to an inexplicable code. I guess it’s all down to a kind of lip reading…are those lips in front of me expecting more?

  2. céline February 9, 2009 at 9:22 am

    It’s a minefield I tell you. Leeds is simple indeed: no kissing ever. Well, almost.

  3. Florent V. February 9, 2009 at 10:08 am

    It sure is difficult even for French people, as the animation says. When you’re greeting people you already know, it’s easy and comfortable (with one exception — more on this later). But with strangers, it’s quite difficult not to make any mistake.
    BUT, mistakes are ok. I mean, French people are used to messing this up, so if you don’t do it right it’s not really awkward, not for more than a few seconds (or less). You go for two kisses (on the cheeks), and the person in front of you expects three or four? Well, they’ll either settle with two or will tell you “it’s three [/four] around here” (granted, you’re probably visiting their city/region), in a very casual way and with a smile.
    There are two really awkward situations, though. The first one is when you meet a stranger and are not sure whether you should shake their hand or kiss them. The second one is when you’ve known someone for some time, started with handshakes, and are getting closer.
    Céline, you’re right, its a minefield. But it’s also a pleasure to kiss friends and family when there’s no awkward situation. It’s like wine or cheese: an acquired taste, that you don’t really like as a child and come to appreciate later on; plus there’s pleasure and challenge of discovering — and getting acustomed to — new varieties in different areas of France.

  4. céline February 9, 2009 at 10:14 am

    Strangely enough, British people are considered more distant and colder than the French, but once you’ve managed to make them like you, they just love hugging, which to me, is a lot more affectionate and personal than a peck of the cheek, which can involve next to no physical contact.
    And yes, mistakes are completely ok.
    Ps: great blog, and I love “Avec de vrais morceaux de texte dedans” 🙂

  5. Essentials February 9, 2009 at 12:46 pm

    Oh, what a topic!
    There are quite funny situations I recal about the kissing matter.
    As a Romanian, I am used to kissing – hehe. I don’t particularly like it though. When two Romanian meet they kiss on both cheeks, regardless of gender. That was a revelation for some friends from UK who came in visit. haha. If I may say, Romanian ladies of brave ages like to kiss, quite a lot. I had this experience where I had to use evasion. Not nice of me, but I couldn’t handle so much :).
    Because of my slavic origins I have been in touch with the slavic (Russian, Ukrainian) culture. I should say that in this context men do kiss on lips. Yes! I did experience that once when I was younger and after that occasion I would quickly turn the cheek when in a situation like that (though it would creat confusion) Oh, that is an odd situation to be in as a man…
    I have to agree with celine. British people like to hug. It was a shock to me when I was hugged by a Briish man the first time. But I soon became accustomed to it. I too believe a hug says a lot more than a kiss.
    About kissing a British person… I usually would get it wrong as I am used to kiss 2 times, and it seems that British people kiss only once (that if they do it at all). Have you experience this, too?
    All the best to all,

  6. Corinne McKay February 10, 2009 at 1:07 am

    What a great post, Celine! I remember my first day as a study abroad student in France, when I was introduced to my host family’s 6 year old son; he sort of stuck his head toward me and I had no clue what was going on (apparently this topic isn’t covered in American French classes). The host mother said “Il veut que tu l’embrasses” and I remember thinking “on the lips? on the cheek? what do I do?” I’ll admit that from an American point of view, I still find it a little odd to be given the bise by male colleagues, but as the person above said, hugging involves much more physical contact, and we Americans hug all the time!

  7. GB Steve February 15, 2009 at 9:38 pm

    When I lived in the Dordogne, it was four kisses from the locals, out in the countryside but less the more urban one became. It was only two in Bordeaux.

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