🎶« Fais-moi la bise comme un aristocrate » 🎶
(Translation: “kiss me on the cheeks like an aristocrat”)
Heuss L’Enfoiré – “Aristocrate” (from his 2019 début album, “En Esprit”):
Faire la bise is the French term for the act of cheek kissing as a greeting.
In France, it’s customary to greet friends, family, and sometimes colleagues with a kiss on both cheeks. Generally, French people do not hug.
Interestingly, however, the French word “embrasser” means “to hug.” For example, one could close a letter with “je t’embrasse” (“I hug/ embrace you”), but in this context, it would means “kisses” similar to signing with an “x” or the kiss emoji: 😘!
I know, I found it confusing, too!
One time at workcamp…
In 1995, I spent almost a month in France at a workcamp (the commonly used term for international volunteer projects that I participated in). I remember one of the participants from Poland was shocked when a local teenage boy greeted her with la bise! She even wagged a disapproving finger at him!
Witnessing the culture clash between my new friends at the workcamp taught me that cheek kissing is not embraced by all of Europe as I had presumed.
However, many people from other countries practice cheek kissing as a form of greeting, as well.
For instance, during the workcamp, we visited another workcamp taking place nearby. There, I witnessed the group leader from Morocco greet our group leader from Québec, Canada with not one or two, but three kisses on the cheeks. It taught me about regional differences in the number of kisses in la bise.
In Latin American countries, cheek kisses are exchanged between women, and between men and women. In Argentina in South America, men also greet each other with a beso (Spanish for “kiss”).
In the Philippines, the cheek kiss is called beso-beso, which is Spanish for (you guessed it!) “kiss-kiss.” My family and I practice this custom by greeting one another with one kiss on the cheek and a quick hug.
I greet my girlfriends with an air kiss on one cheek, but hug them farewell. I’ve been told that I get particularly “huggy” after a few drinks. (Well, that’s a story for another time!)
As for colleagues or other professional acquaintances, I stick to the formal handshake. I work in human resources and we’re trained to refrain from even complimenting someone’s new hairstyle or clothing as it could be misconstrued as harassment. It’s not worth the risk! Better safe than sorry. Yeah, it’s pretty cold.
But the French people I’ve met are warm and welcoming. That’s one of the things I like about the French culture. In France, you could meet someone for the first time and faire la bise. It’s intimate, but not romantic. It signals respect, but not distance.
In French class, I recall practicing greetings and introductions with my classmates. We’d say to each other, “Enchanté de faire votre connaissance” (“it’s nice to meet you/ it’s nice to make your acquaintance”).
But I recall doing this exercise with handshakes – not with la bise! It’s French with an “American” accent, I suppose?
How to faire la bise
News correspondent, Florence Villeminot of France24 shows how to faire la bise in the following video:
à bientôt, je t’embrasse,
Darlene xx 😚 😚
How do you greet friends? Family? Colleagues? Tell me in the comments below!