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Bise Etiquette: Comment faire la bise? Greetings in Europe

So after my umpteenth time of awkwardly bumping noses with someone and almost kissing them on the mouth (obviously by accident!), I’ve decided that I  have to master bise etiquette. Here’s your ultimate guide on how meet and greet people in various regions of France, and across Europe.

fairground in jardin des tuileries

Bise Etiquette: Comment faire la Bise?

Growing up English/ Canadian, mastering the ‘bise’ was never really an issue. The people in my life shook hands and, if they were close friends, hugged. Going near anyone’s face was never really a thing…

But when I moved to France, all of this changed. Suddenly I was thrown into a world where hugging was seen as too intimate, shaking hands too formal. The ‘bise’ was seen as the perfect balance.

I may have tried to learn how to dress like a Parisian or master the art of picnics in Paris, but for some reason, bise etiquette is something that has so far gone over my head entirely- a bit like rolling my ‘r’s. Like, do I have to actually touch their face with mine?! No, you don’t, Sophie.

So let’s get this Bise Etiquette sorted for once and all! (Just remember that this is a general guideline and you should probably- okay, definitely– gauge the situation on a  case by case basis). After all, greeting people throughout Europe does not have to be difficult. Just follow these guidelines and you’ll be fine!

Comment faire la bise?

Say ‘Bonjour’ to the person (or salut etc. depending on how well you know them). Then, turn your head to the side so that you are cheek to cheek and make a ‘kissing’ sound. Yep, you don’t actually have to kiss their cheek. Often, the ‘bise’ is more of an air kiss than an actual kiss.

It doesn’t matter which side you turn your head first, as long as you are clear about the direction. I can’t reiterate this point enough! If you feel uncomfortable with la bise, a firm handshake is seen as a perfectly acceptable alternative in most situations.

In general, men shake hands (unless they’re family or close friends), women and men faire la bise, women and women faire la bise, and everyone and children faire la bise. Got all of that?

Comment faire la bise in…

So now I’m sorted? Say hi. Air kiss. Be firm in my cheek turning decision… Right? Well, no. Different regions have a different number of kisses ranging anywhere from one or two to as many as five.

Northern France: Normally two kisses is sufficient. However, in Eastern Brittany, one kiss. In Nantes, four. Southern France: In Provence, three kisses. A lot of the rest of Southern France, two kisses is enough. Read more: Useful French phrases you’ll want to remember.

Switzerland: Three kisses is the norm in most parts of Switzerland.

Italy: In general, two. But again, each region differs wildly.

Belgium: Three.

Netherlands: Three. Read more: Beautiful and incredibly useful Dutch words and phrases.

Whew, well that was confusing! So if I say hi, do an air kiss, or two or three or four, then it will be all good. Well, hopefully!

bise etiquette

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Thursday 11th of August 2016

This post made me laugh out loud so much! I split my time between the UK and Switzerland but venture to France and Italy fairly frequently all of whom have different bise etiquettes - I forget where I am half the time and have encountered many an awkward bise moment!! X

the adventurer

Thursday 11th of August 2016

Yes! Thank you for breaking it down! Half the time I look like an idiot trying to figure out it it's one or two or three...or four! =o)

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