23 October 2010

A Lesson in French Kissing

It's an everyday occurrence here. With your coworkers, newly made acquaintances, people you see daily; sometimes it's a little awkward and sometimes it's done multiple times. Oh wait, you thought... That's cute but actually, I wanted to go over la bise. You see it in movies and when you think of  the French, you likely think of baguettes, berets, and kissing on the check. (Okay and also probably wine, cheese, cigarettes...) Contrary to a lot of the stereotypes put forth in the media, la bise is a very essential daily ritual in French culture and one that can't be avoided if you're interacting with the French. 

Not having grown up with it, it's not second nature to me just yet. Not to mention, it's sometimes a little confusing. Every morning when I walk into the teacher's lounge at work, those already in the room prep themselves to faire la bise. When others walk in the room, they'll walk in and head straight towards the nearest person to start their rounds. It's later in the day when it can get tricky. Coming into the lounge at recess or at lunch, you only need to faire la bise with those you haven't already seen that day. Then, there are some teachers that I see in passing that will stop for their quick cheek kisses, some others who won't and some who say they don't do la bise at all. Since this gets repeated everyday, I'm quickly getting into the habit of it, lest I accidentally offend someone. The other day, I noticed Nicolas (le directeur) walked into the room and took inventory of everyone there, quietly noting to himself whether he'd properly greeted them or not. He then walked straight towards me and nearly apologized that he'd seen me in the class I was observing earlier in the morning but he hadn't greeted me directly. You see, they don't take this lightly! 

So here's a run-down of the basics:
  • La bise has nothing to do with affection; you aren't kissing them on the cheek. Rather, it's a quick instance where your cheeks lightly touch, you purse your lips and make a light kissing noise. No hugging is involved. 
  • There's no rule for which side to start on, though I've noticed that the person who initiates the air kiss tends to offer their right cheek first. 
  • Depending on the region, the number of kisses offered varies from one up to five. In le Nord, I've only experienced two kisses -one on each side. It's best to take notice of those around you for guidance if  you don't know.
  • There's not a science to who you'll faire la bise with. From what I can find, you can expect to kiss most within the 20/30-something age range - even if it's the first time you've met them. Women do it with both men and women (yes, I realize how funny that sounds if you're five); men kiss one another when they're close friends or family, otherwise they often shake hands but it still depends. You don't need to kiss your superior but should watch their cues because Nicolas will give us all kisses.  
Lousie from Wales and Christin from Indiana
Niles the Canadian

la bise* - cheek kiss
faire la bise* - to kiss someone on the cheek
le directeur (la directrice) - the director
le nord - north or the North (Not only am I in northern France in terms of direction, but the name of the département I'm in is specifically called Nord [All zip codes in this region begin in 59---- and each region has it's own two-digit code). 
*Neither of these translate directly into English, since there's not an equivalent word. A real kiss on the lips is actually un baiser.


  1. This way of greeting people is the same in Turkey! I imagine that it is pretty much the swae in any countries over there in Europe. You will get it all down. It will become second nature to you. You are certainly learning a great deal over there. Have fun! Dad. P.S. Unions are needed to fight for large groups to ensure that they are treated fairly. Don't you think it's a bit add that liberal minds desire more government? Unions here in the states push for more government control. Yet, gov't's, like France, make huge changes that effect thh lives of the nation (pro/con). Forcing people to work 2 additional years to pay for overspending is certainly causing a stir where you are at. U.S. unions are forcing more gov't here to make us more dependent on them to fight the socialism that they promote. That is what I call a paradox that makes no sense at all for the good of the country. Please pay attention to the socialist gov't style and form your own opinion based on your experiences. It may cause you to tilt your attitudes and beliefs one way or another from where they were before you arrived in Europe. That is an education in itself! Love you Kelse, Dad. P.S. My new cell is 206-371-7808. My new pc doesn't have a camera. So, I need to purchase one that can plug in to enable Skype.

  2. You're a pro. I don't know if I'd be comfortable lol One of my guy friends recently started kissing me on the cheek... I'm 100% sure he'd prefer the standard old American style French kissing though. =p