French Friday – Le Business of La Bise

La bise.  A specific kind of kiss that you see French people (as well as many other European nationalities) do in greeting (and in departure).   It can be a tricky thing.

Although I lived in France in L’Ain, where la bise consisted of two kisses, I worked in Switzerland where it was customary to do three.  The office was international with people coming from many countries, but at least in there, it was understood that the “home team” quantity of three presided.

However, when I went to sales and marketing meetings it was always hilarious to see the dance of the air kisses when one country had one or two more than “usual.” I tripped on this constantly.

I had an e-commerce vendor in Barcelona who I would visit several times during the year.  Turns out unlike the most of the rest of Spain who where people kiss twice, the Barcelonians did three.  When I met them for the first time and spent the afternoon with them, I parted their offices with kisses.  I went in for two on the first person I exchanged kisses with, and they went for the third nearly kissing me on the mouth as I pulled away!

Paris is a two-kiss city unless the person you are interacting with sticks with their “origins” (a lot of people in Paris aren’t originally from Paris) and throw you off with their regional number.  So although my mother-in-law lived in Paris for thirty years, she insists on four kisses as they do it in Poitou-Charentes!

Here is a map so you can see just how crazy it can get.  It details the number of kisses (up to 5!) in the various regions of France.  You can click the map to go to the origin site for more information.

kissing-map1

Funnily enough for an American, these kisses feel very intimate while the French feel our American-style hugs are far more so! Interesting, huh?

Anyone have any funny “bise” stories to share?

About Andi Fisher

I'm a lifestyle blogger focused on travel and food. I love to travel via my stomach eating and seeking out local artisans to feature here. I'm a big supporter of the blogging community and love highlighting travel and food bloggers for you to meet.

Comments

  1. Just this past Wednesday night I was invited to a party with mostly French people although there were some expats, too, most of whom have lived in France a decade or more. It was a birthday party for a Scottish woman who has lived in France about 30 years or so. When meeting everyone, it was a combination of either handshakes or la bise, and it was a little hard to know when to do what. What was funny is that the Scottish woman, her French husband and hybrid (lol — I mean that in a good way) children now live in Lyon and start kissing on the LEFT side of the cheek, from what I could tell!

    It’s all confusing. I have to say I am glad that I am a foreigner in these situations. It’s kind of expected I will “mess up” and not know what to do, necessarily. I know it is a source of some stress for French people, too, with so many regional differences.

    Overall, I like la bise, though. It’s fun and different for me, and makes me feel closer to the people I am meeting, like we are saying to one another, “Hey! I am trusting you enough to stick my face REALLY close to yours to say hello!” It is nice.

    What I am still getting used to is that the proximal distance (how close or how far people stand in relation to one another) is *much* closer than in the US. I keep finding myself wanting to back up from people as it feels like they are in my personal space. I have to help myself remember that French people just stand closer to one another, and no one is trying to get too friendly.

    • @Karin, getting used to how close people stand to you was definitely something I had to get used to as well. It is amazing to me that a French person would get annoyed at small talk in an elevator, but they have no problem practically standing on you!

  2. What a fun post. I was in Brazil for 2 weeks (my daughter lived there for 1 1/2 years and I went to “pick her up”) and they have the same tradition of kissing. I love it.

    I loved it when we visited France too. Again thanks for the happy blog.
    It is so great to get a new friend. (you) This blog party is such a great way to connect! I am the mother of 5 grown daughters and I am an avid quilter and a professional organizer helping women get rid of clutter in their homes and lives.
    I hope you have a fantastic day! I look forward to connecting with you.

    • @Marilyn – thanks for visiting, the blogathon was a great way to meet new bloggers. I am so glad you stopped by!

  3. Last year when I studied in Aix a bunch of my American friends and I started doing the bises. At first it took us a while to get it right because some people start of with their left cheek or vise versa…I remember trying to ‘fair la bises’ with a friend but since we didn’t know which way to start, we almost kissed each other. It was pretty funny especially because some french people were laughing at us. 🙂

  4. I did almost 25 years in France, and was married to a Frenchman, so that made me into something of an expert at the time. (For more details, see my book French Graffiti) As for “la bise,” I remember being challenged as a young bride to remember how many kisses different people required. I always suspected some male members of my ex-hubby’s family would go for four, in order to make the encounter more intimate, although we lived near Paris where the norm was 2, as you noted. “La bise” eventually becomes second-nature. Now that I live back in the USA, I actually miss it ….

    • @Alexandra, I miss it too! I saw your book on your blog a few weeks back and meant to check it out, thanks for the reminder! You have a great little inn!

  5. Hi Andi. I love hearing about other people’s mishaps with the bise. Thanks for including a link to my post about it! My mother-in-law does the 4 kisses, too, by the way. Sometimes it does get to be a lot when I’m with a whole bunch of 4-kissers 🙂
    -Sion

  6. http://happywonderment.blogspot.com/2009/10/hugs-or-kisses.html

    I thought you might get a kick out of my blog post from October called Hugs or Kisses. Out of all the posts I have written, it got the biggest reaction.
    Jake

  7. There is also often the complication of male/male vs male/female or female/female kisses. My husband and I ran into this recently in Spain, where the number of kisses (1, 2, or 3) in this region depended on the genders involved. Of course, this wasn’t explained to us until a few days into our trip!

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