La Bise- Kiss (noun)
Bises = Kisses (plural)
Gros Bisous= big kiss
Grosses Bises = big kisses
Bizzzzzz = kisssssssssss (slang)
Faire la bise = to give a kiss
I’m sure many of you have heard of how the French tend to greet each other with kisses on the cheeks (the French almost NEVER hug, FYI). Though stereotypical, this is absolutely true and accurate. La bise is the act of grazing cheeks and making “that kissing sound” with you lips. (Some people may or may not actually touch their lips to your cheek). You always start on the person’s right cheek, and then rotate to the left. The number of kisses can range from 2-4, depending on in which region of France one finds themselves. For example, in Normandy and Paris, people give 2 bises, but a dude I met from Bretagne gave 3– But some regions give as many as 4! (The video below is in French but talks about the social anxiety faced by foreigners giving bisous in France!)
As an American, this is a huge culture shock. Americans do not normally kiss perfect strangers– we shake hands. However, in France if you are a woman and exchanging a greeting with another woman or man, regardless if you have never met before, or if they are someone else’s boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse, or partner, you always “faire la bise.” (Rule of thumb is that women always faire la bise with both men and women, and men always faire la bise with other women but shake hands with other men. Of course, if the men are related, or just extremely close friends, or in a relationship with one another, it is perfectly acceptable for men to also faire la bise with other men.) the only time people shake hands with one another is perhaps in a professional situation, such as a job interview.
I remember when I first met Ryan’s friend Marou in Paris back in 2010, (more on her to come later!) and Ryan told me to be prepared to faire la bise when I met her. I remember mentally preparing and being so nervous, just because it was something so culturally different, even when in France it is second nature, like shaking hands is here! Additionally, I remember our professor telling us that we should be prepared to faire la bise with our host families upon meeting them, in the middle of the parking lot (this did actually happen!) That was really different (and uncomfortable) for a lot of us at first, but something that seemed totally normal just after a few weeks!
The French also sign off letters and emails and Facebook messages with some form of bisous or bises (basically the English version of “xoxo” or “Love.” So, at the end of my blog posts, I will also start doing the same (seeing as we are all close friends here).
As I countdown the days until departure, I am trying to mentally again prepare to faire la bise with everyone I meet (except the colleagues and other professionals at my school, of course!)! I actually love giving bisous; I think it is a nice medium in between sloppy lip-to-lip kisses, hugs, and handshaking here is the US. In fact, the only real downfall to la bise is when I have to exchange with men whose beards are scruffily sharp, because it hurts my cheeks (almost like sandpaper)– aie! (Take notes, gents!)
Nine days until departure!