French Kissing 101: Give ‘Em the Bise

Mwah! Mwah! French Kissing

Everyone kisses everyone here in the south of France. Women kiss women, men kiss men, kids kiss adults, business associates kiss each other, none of it is the least bit strange. No, not kissing on the lips, we’re talking about la bise–two kisses, one on each cheek. You know, like The Real Housewives’ air kisses, only perhaps a little less dramatic.

La Bise is Simultaneously Cultured and Awkward

Oh my friends, so much can go wrong with all this kissing, particularly when you are not used to it. And it is quite expected of you. On Saturday morning, when I take my daughter to her soccer match (le match du foot), each and every parent and kid greets each other parent and kid with la bise. Let’s see, a team of eight kids, plus one or two parents each, plus one coach, for thirteen people that’s 78 combinations (didn’t get that quantitative analysis degree for nothin’!), meaning outside of 156 kisses. Long story short, it takes quite a while to drop off the kid at soccer. I usually try to send my husband.

No wonder everyone is getting sick these winter days! Anyone with germs passes them on like wildfire.

What If You Don’t Want to Kiss?

It’s all pretty weird, to a typically midwestern American. I’m not used to being that intimate with strangers. I mean, they can smell your breath and you have to be careful not to pick up–or give–an extra smudge of foundation or lipstick. There were those friends back home that I knew well enough to hug, and there are some days when I really miss hugging. I’m out of the practice of hugging now; even among other Americans we are more likely to bise.

So what happens if you don’t bise? It’s quite strange. When I offer a handshake, the faces are less bright and it’s obvious that I’m not from around here. It seems like I’ve imposed a distance between us–I’m acting like I’m different from everyone else, not part of the group. Not the best way to be accepted by the people in your social circle. So you gotta do it–kiss!

Since You Have to, Learn How to Correctly Do La Bise

Here is a nice instructional on how to do this most necessary of kissing in France:

Note that it’s best to start on the right–their right, not your right! See how easy it is to go wrong? In other words, offer your right cheek. If you start opposite, the other person may not know it and you may get actual lip contact. Ewww! That’s not what we’re going for here.

It’s also a bit difficult when two optically-challenged people bise. I’ve poked people with the corner of my glasses (this was pre-Lasik), even knocked other people’s glasses off. I’m really quite a klutz when it comes down to it. When you have glasses, tilt your chin at an angle a little more, so the end pieces are further from your victim friend.

Another fine point that can vary regionally and by relationship is how many kisses to give. Here’s a great instructional to understand this better:

It amazes me how different the peoples of France seem now that I live here. Before, they were all just “French”.

So, now you know. Get out there and get kissing! I can’t wait for my co-bloggers to share their “best of bise” stories–there are so many good ones. What is your favorite bise?

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3 thoughts on “French Kissing 101: Give ‘Em the Bise

  1. I didn’t realize you had a blog until now 🙂 I first went to Turkey and they do this (I think they did right/left/right if I remember correctly after 20 over 20 years). As I am shy around people I don’t know, introverted, and not used to doing this, I never understood if we were doing it with everyone or just certain people and tried to go with cues from the other person. I messed up with my dear friend’s male jr high or high school aged cousin, I thought the cue was not doing it, but then he started to as I offered my hand and my friend told me I offended him :(. And then I felt horrible and was even more anxious about getting it right. So I completely understand. I now think I get it right when I’m where this is custom at least 🙂


    1. Hello Julie and thanks for reading! It really can get awkward, can’t it? It’s hard to just opt out–better to be prepared. Thanks for the warning about Turkey–one of our favorite places to visit! Do you miss it?


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