Some of our teachers in our French classes have been teaching their students about greetings in France. It’s a complicated business (c’est compliqué).

One of the way we greet others is called “faire la bise” and it happens among men (although some prefer to shake hands), women, and children across France every time they meet. It can seem a pretty unusual custom (c’est un peu bizarre) to outsiders but wait, your way of saying hello can be quite confusing for us as well.

There are a few essential things to know about la bise:

  • It is just a kiss in the air. It is NOT a proper kiss on the cheek. This is a lot more intimate and will embarrass (gêner) your French acquaintances greatly. They will probably blush (rougir)!
  • The number of kisses depends on the region. I’m from Montpellier, and we do three; an hour away, in Narbonne, they do two; and in some parts of France they do 4. This definitely takes a chunk out of the working day (ça prend du temps) if you work in a big office!
  • French readers, correct me if I am wrong, but I don’t think there is a convention on which side to start. I seem to start with the right cheek (la joue droite) but that might be just me!

Now I have noticed that in England, among friends, it is not unusual to hug (se prendre dans les bras – beware, embrasser should mean this but now means to kiss) to say hello or goodbye. This feels extremely intimate to us, so we might be surprised!

It would be too easy if the difficult social conventions stopped there; but this is when, if you meet someone for the first time, you have to make the choice between “tu” and “vous”!

If you would like to practice your “bises” and wonder awkwardly how many you should give, join us Sunday 16th for our ciné-club; it is also still time to join our classes to learn French in Bristol and Bath.