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La Bise for Beginners

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What is la bise? Basically, it is a way of greeting and goodbye where two French people “kiss” each other on the cheek. So smack on the left cheek and smack on the right cheek. It doesn’t sound complicated right?

But it’s not that simple. If you happen to travel in France you’ll see a grand variety of cheek kissing, and you’ll quicky get stuck in questions like How many bise do I give? Who do I bise? When do I bise? Where do I bise etc… and maybe you’ll encounter some embarrassing situations, but, don’t worry, we’re here to help you!

French bise is a complex art that even French people get confused with so here’s a guide for you to master this gesture of French culture. Let’s go!

When ?

So there are a lot of occasions for you to practice your bise
– When you greet people
– When you leave people
– When you thank someone. But it depends on the situation. If you thank for a small service (like someone bringing you coffee) just say “Merci”. But if it is a big service (like someone offering you a present) you give a bise and say “Merci”
– When you congratulate people during big occasions like their wedding, their graduation etc…
– Note that on the phone or on text messages French people like to finish their messages by “bisous” when they talk to people that are close to them.

Little tip
If you’re not sure you should give a bise or not, observe what the others do and do the same. If you can’t just wait for your interlocutor to make the first step.

Who ?

There’s one thing to note first, you only give a bise to acquaintances and family members. In formal situations, use the handshake to greet French people unless you’re on a really good term with the other person

If you’re a man :
– All the females friends, acquaintances, family members
– With the males it is a bit more complicated : Even when men are especially close they don’t bise each other, but it’s not forbidden so if you want to faire la bise to a man, just go for it. There are exceptions though, during important events like weddings and funerals.
– With teenagers and kids, you can give a bise everytime, but note that young boys don’t really like to faire la bise with people of the same sex.

If you’re a woman : It’s really simple, you can give a bise to everyone that you’re close enough with.

If you’re a teenager
– For the girls it’s like the women, you can give a bise to everyone
– For the boys : Greet the girls with a bise but avoid the males

Little tip
When you join a group of French people you have to faire la bise to everyone or you’ll be deemed impolite. But if you think there’s too much people, just show your brightest smile and tell the group that you’re giving a general greeting to everyone.

How ?

– Lightly touch each other cheek then give a little kiss sound in the air. The most common is 2 bises, one on the left cheek and one on the right cheek. Some people like to start on the right, it depends, you just have to adapt.

– But some people like to give more than 2 bises, and that gets confusing even for French people : it goes from 1 up to 5. So here is a map for you to know how many bises you should give. But don’t worry, this map essentially applies to adults and seniors as young people don’t really bother with these rules.

That’s a lot of rules for a mere gesture right? But I can assure you that with practice it becomes quite natural. However, it can get quite annoying sometimes, even when you’re a French veteran. And Paul Taylor won’t say the opposite as he openly shares his annoyance toward la bise in a hilarious video: LA BISE by PAUL TAYLOR. Check it out, you won’t be disappointed and maybe you’ll learn one thing or two about French customs.

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