Gesture 5: Faire la bise
Gestes français - French Gestures
La bise or le bisou means kiss: French family and friends exchange kisses on alternating cheeks upon meeting and separating. Two people introduced by a mutual friend may also faire la bise, particularly kids and young adults.
Whether to faire la bise or not depends mainly on how close the two people are and their gender. Generally speaking, two women who are close enough to tutoient each other will exchange bises. One woman and one man usually will too, unless for some reason the woman is uncomfortable and chooses not to. Two men are less likely to faire la bise; if they aren't family or very close friends, they probably won't. No matter the reason, whenever two people don't faire la bise as a greeting, they shake hands.
The number of kisses and the side that the kisses start on vary by region and by other factors that are more difficult to pin down.
- Two bises (one on each cheek) is the most common, exchanged between family
and friends of all ages as well as between people of the same age who are
introduced by friends or family.
- Three bises is common in Provence. In addition, a friend of mine in Rouen
gave me three bises the day I arrived and the day I left, but only two during the
week in between.
- Four kisses are exchanged in Nantes.
This may sound confusing - it is! In my experience, the best thing to do is just hold still and let the French person do the bises (or hold out his hand); whenever I try to anticipate how many kisses or which side to start on, I mess it up. :-)
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