During the time you’ve spent in Bordeaux, have you noticed that people kiss each other on both cheeks a lot? Maybe you’ve been greeted like that and felt confused. Kissing on the cheek (se faire la bise) is indeed a custom that often puzzles foreigners, because it changes depending on the context and even the region of France you’re in. This article will give you some tips on how to master the art of la bise and hopefully avoid embarrassing situations!
Level of closeness
In France, kissing on the cheek is common among friends, family members and colleagues. With a superior (such as your boss) and in other formal situations, shaking hands is more appropriate. However, if someone who’s not a close friend or that you’ve met for the first time at a party approaches you to kiss you on the cheek, don’t be surprised! It often happens in informal settings.
Traditionally, la bise is more common among women than men. Therefore, when she greets a man or a woman she’s familiar with, a woman usually gives them a kiss on each cheek. Kissing among men has been stigmatized for a long time, but nowadays it’s not unusual for a man to greet a male friend with two kisses instead of shaking hands or hugging.
So far we’ve talked about a kiss on each cheek, which is the most common way of se faire la bise in Bordeaux, but did you know that depending on the region of France people may give up to four kisses? Besides, in some areas they start from the right cheek, whereas in others they start from the left one. There’s even a website on which participants can explain where they are from, how many kisses they give, and which cheek they start from!
As you can see, here in Bordeaux people usually give deux bises (two kisses) starting from la joue droite (the right cheek). The same goes for most of the country.
If you find la bise puzzling, you’re not the only one! Check out this viral video by Paris-based British comedian Paul Taylor.
Se faire la bise is more complex than it looks at a first glance, isn’t it? As a rule of thumb, don’t initiate it yourself, but be ready to embrace what comes!