La bise 101

Most people know or have heard of “la bise” as a French form of greeting. But what is “la bise” exactly and most importantly, how does it work? If you are one of the many people left discombobulated by the mysterious Gallic custom, read ahead!

First things first, who on earth came up with such a silly idea?

Well, apparently, it is all the Romans’ fault as they would be the ones who started this curious business! They used to have three different types of kisses: the romantic kiss (saevium), the religious or friendly kiss (osculum) and finally the greeting kiss (basium – word at the origin of the French word “bise”) which they would use in a very similar manner the French do today.

And though kissing was actually banned in France during the Plague for obvious health and safety reasons, the “bise” resurfaced during WW1 to never leave again!

These days, “faire la bise” is pretty much a social convention.

“La bise”… where?

No, we are NOT talking full blown French kiss with the tongue type of kiss… NOT AT ALL!!! We are talking about a peck (or not) on the cheek as a means to say hello or goodbye. Remember: friendly; NOT passionate…

In actual fact, the French do not even actually kiss but rather graze the cheek while air kissing and making a kissing sound while often placing a hand on the other person’s shoulder.

Who kisses who?

It all depends on the setting and how well you know the person: if you are in a business setting and/or do not know the person you are greeting, you should shake their hands. If you are meeting with friends or acquaintances (depending on how comfortable you feel with this acquaintance and whether or not you prefer to keep your distances – hey, we are not judging!), then you should “faire la bise”!

Women can kiss women, women can kiss men and some men sometimes kiss men (though it is less usual).

French children are generally encouraged to “faire la bise” but this trend is starting to change as some concerns have been raised as to the children’s well-being when “forced” to do something they might not want to.

But, you will ask, how many “bises” are we talking about?

And this is an excellent question… I would even say that this is LA question which even the French struggle to answer. This is the reason why a website called “” was launched: all you need to do is mouse over the area you are visiting and the programme will tell you how many kisses you are meant to be giving according to the locals as well as which side to start from: quite the existential question!

Combien de bises?

Paul Taylor, an English comedian whom I have written about in a previous post, made the funniest video (and oh so deliciously britishly politically incorrect) on the matter. In this video, Paul explains why, in his opinion, the “bise” is such a pain – which, I have to admit, I quite agree with!

Lastly, a word of friendly warning: dear well-behaved reader, do NOT translate “Faire la bise” with the verb “baiser”, as the latter tends to refer to a lot more action than just a simple “bise” and you might get yourself into some serious trouble!!

Let us know what you think about our quaint “bise” in the comment section below! And feel free to share your experiences!

Allez, bisou!

Published by Estelle Demontrond-Box

Language Teacher, CIoL-certified Translator, Published Writer, I am from Besançon, France and now live in Sydney, Australia. Enseignante de langues (CAPES d'anglais), Traductrice certifiée (CIoL) et Auteure publiée, originaire de Besançon, je vis désormais à Sydney, Australie.

One thought on “La bise 101

  1. As a french man, i only “kiss” men of my family (older than me) or close males friends (and of course women except in business world)


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