Faire la bise. Something so simple for the French (and many Europeans), yet it can be pretty intimidating if you’re not used to it. La bise, or a kiss on each cheek, is the traditional French greeting that, in many social situations, replaces the handshake, hug, or general « hello ». But the first time that someone leans in to give you a kiss, it can feel a little strange! The internal dialogue generally goes as follows:
Is he gonna kiss me?
Oh my goodness he’s leaning in to kiss me.
I just met him, this is SO WEIRD.
Oh wait, his head is turning… So he’s NOT going to kiss me. WAIT – yes he is…
Aaaannd off to the right he goes!
So that means I go to the left…
Do we touch cheeks? Is this like an air-kiss thing?
Do I actually have to put my lips on his cheek??
Is HE actually going to smack my cheek with his lips???
OK, no touching apparently for him…
Although I think he just made a kissy sound.
Here we go. OK one side down. Annnd he’s off to the other side.
Oops, cheeks bumped this time.
Phew, ok DONE. Glad that’s over.
Wait, I have to faire la bise with EVERYONE?? OMG!!!
– (END SCENE)-
Yup, we’ve been there, done that. And, to make things even more complicated, the number of kisses varies according to where you live.
Here in Provence, the standard is two bises between friends. But as soon as you go « up North » to Avignon, it’s three bises! This map, based on a nation-wide online survey, shows the number of customary kisses given in each area of France. A common French joke states that you know where you are in France based on how many kisses the inhabitants give one another!
But not to fear! We’ll be writing a « how-to » so you know when and how to faire la bise, but for now the cute animated video above (en français, bien sur) is good start on what to think about. (The English translation of the video is available on YouTube). And at the end of your semester (or summer) abroad, la bise will have become second nature. You’ll even wonder how you ever got on without it back home!
Check back soon for more tips on France and Savoir Vivre! For example, do you know how to say Bonjour?
L’Art de la Bise is part of Savoir Vivre à la Française, a presentation on French etiquette and table manners, given to all AUCP students during their first week of orientation at the AUCP.