Traditions Field Note


Since I arrived in France, I noticed something very interesting about how French people greet each other. They kiss each other on the cheek instead of shaking hands! This traditional way of greeting others is not just common in France, but in many European countries and even other countries around the world. Do you know any other countries that might practice this tradition?

In French, this form of greeting is called faire la bise (fay-rh la beez). Usually, two people come up to each other and rub cheeks while making a kissing sound. You usually don’t kiss the other’s cheeks directly unless you know them very well. Have you ever greeted someone this way? How did it make you feel?

Who takes part in this tradition?

Children practicing this tradition

Most of the time, people greet each other in this way when they meet for the first time, are already friends, or just acquaintances. So, you can imagine that faire la bise happens a lot here in France!  Men and women will faire la bise. So will two women when they greet one another. However, two men tend to just shake hands unless they know each other very well.

Why does the community have this tradition?

Faire la bise has been a tradition for hundreds of years in France, and represents many things in French society. Some say that in the past, it was way for people to get a sense of who the other person was or how he or she was doing. By moving physically  closer to someone, people could use their senses to detect smells and other physical traits about people.  This was especially common between members of the same family.

Others, however, say that it represents safety in friendship. When two people come together to faire la bise, they open their arms and become closer. In the past, some say that this showed the innocence of each person and that they had no weapons and meant no harm, only peace.

Is this tradition connected to its environment? How?

Even President and First Lady Obama do it!

Greeting others by kissing on the cheeks is very important to French culture. But it is often difficult to tell how many kisses to give! Every region of France has their own special number, but sometimes there is no strict rule.

Some people, for example, say that in Paris you usually give four kisses. Others say you should only kiss twice. Some also say that here, in the south of France, you kiss more than in northern France. Others say the opposite! I believe the difference is actually in the family and friends you have and how many kisses they give.

Faire la bise

Here in Menton, people usually only give two kisses. Even if you are not French or European, many international students (including myself) have taken on this tradition and practice it with one another when meeting. It was definitely something for me to get used to when I came to France for the first time, but now it’s fun. If you haven’t tried this way of greeting someone, try it with your parents or siblings today!

Here is a great video explaining faire la bise in France. Although it is in French, it is not too difficult to understand by watching the animations:

(The translation is also available in the description)


Image sources:


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