What does Faire la bise mean? It simply means to give a kiss. In France it refers to the cultural practice of cheek kissing as a greeting or goodbye.
Alright if you are travelling to France you are bound to see people giving each other kisses on the cheek and possible you will be giving and receiving them as well. In French its called faire la bise. When you greet someone you know or are meeting someone new for the first time you will faire la bise typically exchange kisses on the cheek. This sounds rather simple but its rather complex and even the French don’t always know how many times the other will kiss them on the cheek. So don’t feel embarrassed if you get it wrong. Let’s cover the basics.
Faire la bise 101
Men: Men faire la bise with women they are friends, acquaintances, or close male family members like your father or brother. There are exceptions for this like when having reunion with very close friends or emotional situations like a marriage or funeral. However, even if male friends who are close will not usually faire la bise / kiss cheeks.
Women: Women faire la bise with male and female friends, acquaintances, and family. They will even exchange bises with those whom they vousvoient. Using vous does not always imply a formal relationship.
Kids and Teenagers: Adults will often faire la bise with kids and youth that they are close with but not acquaintances anyone they are just meeting. Typically, they will shake their hand. Between youth it is common for both sexes to faire la bise even teenage boys. Not all boys do this but it is common.
Boys: It is more common for teenage boys to kiss cheeks than men. Typical it is just one kiss and is similar to a bro hug in the US and Canada. Young men will clasp hands, side hug, and kiss on one side of the cheek. Laura Lawless of About.com’s French section has coined the term “Bro Bise” which I think is great.
1. If a woman does not feel comfortable kissing cheeks with a man she can politely offer her hand for a handshake.
2. If you are in a group of people and a new person arrives it is normal for everyone to stop and greet the new person. The new person will faire la bise and or shake hands with every person. This will happen even in business meetings. It is impolite not to acknowledge everyone. As a customer your interaction with an employee will even get interrupted by kisses and short conversation by co workers arriving or leaving.
3. With point number two above you should also consider this for men. Even if they do not faire la bise with everyone they will shake hands with everyone.
4. In formal situations where you would vousvoient (use Vous to address someone formally) it is still okay to kiss cheeks. It is sometimes just as a sign of respect and not one of distance.
It is common to exchange kisses or handshakes upon arriving, leaving, and when congratulating or thanking someone.
When you faire la bise you do not actually kiss the other persons cheek but simply touch cheeks lightly and kiss the air. It is usually done very fast. Depending on the region you are in determines the # of times you will touch cheeks. The most common is 2 times but can reach as many as 5. See the image below that shows how many kisses one should expect by region. Results will vary by person as there are no hard rules.
Cultural Notes: Although for non Europeans it may seem odd to be kissing cheeks with another person’s spouse or significant other but it is a perfectly normal and harmless greeting in France and other European countries. However, make sure you don’t linger too long or it may taken the wrong way.
The best thing you can do is just watch what the others are doing and go along. You will catch on quickly and don’t feel bad if you mess it up. When in doubt let Les Francais lead.
Phone conversations: The bises is so prevalent in French culture that phone conversations are often ended with “Bisous” or “Kiss” to say goodbye.
Texting: “Bise” and “Bisous” are both used to say goodbye when texting or sms.
Europe: It is also common practice among most Eastern and Western European countries. Practices vary but the general rules will be similar. Especially in Spain, Switzerland, Italy, Belgium, and Romania.
Let me know your experiences.
Also remember that we offer a free trial at our school for new students who want to learn French. Check our French classes page for more.