French greetings

Okay, you already know that French people like to kiss on the cheek when they meet. But do you know how many times you should kiss? What cheek you should start with? When is it appropriate to kiss or shake hands?

  • La bise :kissing:
    That’s the name French people give to the kissing on the cheeks. Now, before you get anymore confused about this, let me tell you that even French people are sometimes puzzled about the number of kisses or the cheeks you’ll start with… So don’t get too embarrassed if you end up kissing a friend on the lips - it happened to all of us :sweat_smile:
    Just know this, every region have a different number (between 1 and 5) and start with a different cheek. If you do not know, aim for 2, it’s the most common. In Paris you usually do 2 (although my grandma liked to do 4) and start with the right cheek but in Brittany it’s only 1 (although many people do 2 nowadays) and we start with the left cheek :upside_down_face:
    When to do it?
    Everytime you see your friends or family (sometimes with your colleagues), when you arrive then when you leave at a party or an event.
    Women do la bise to other women and men and children.
    Men do la bise to women and children and their really really really close friends and family.
    For more info, have a look at:
    L’art de la bise, by Karambolage
    this amazing website: Combien de bises ?

  • Serrer la main :handshake:
    Shaking hands can be seen as very formal in France. We would only do it if we meet a person for the first time (and this person is neither related to our friends or family nor is with a very good friend of ours) or if the person has a higher rank in the company we work in.
    Men will likely shake hands to many of their friends, even if they actually do la bise to their girl friends.

  • Salut de la main :wave:
    If you are sick, just wave at everyone ! Or pretend to be, so you can avoid those awkward kissing moments :laughing:

  • Un câlin :hugs:
    French people are not particularly fan of hugging so unless you have a group of friends that are foreigners and/or have lived in a hugging country I wouldn’t recommend trying it. I personally just hug my really really close family, and not even all of my friends!

  • And if you still don’t know what to do? :interrobang:
    Don’t wait for someone to lean on you if you do not want to kiss them, offer your hand first or wave at them. Don’t be afraid to take the first step, they’ll adjust to you!

Hope I’ve brought some insight on the very intriguing French “bise:wink:

I’m curious to know, what do you do in your own countries? And if we have other French people, what do you do in your own region?


Greetings in Germany are pretty simple in comparison. No counting necessary :smiley:
Disclaimer: Germans don’t always know how to say hello and they only have two options.

Strangers: handshake. Always works.
Friends/Family: hugs and/or close handshakes. I think men tend to shake hands before going in for a pat on the back, women usually just hug
Being introduced: if it’s a friend of a friend, you can definitely hug. If it’s at work, then go for the handshake.

When in doubt, shake hands. If you really don’t know, just stand there awkwardly, smile and wave :wave::grin:

A Bussi (the German word for bise) is reserved for family and loved ones. You would only give someone a peck on the cheek if you really know them well, or you’re dating them :wink:

However, this is also dependent on region. In Austria for example, it isn’t uncommon to give two Bussis :kissing_heart:


Great explanation, gcamus! In the US we don’t have so many distinctions! We usually hug to greet family and friends.

When meeting someone for the first time you shake hands. You also shake hands at the start of meetings and interviews and pretty much any other interactions at work. We call it the “power handshake” and there is a skill to doing it well.

But I think I’m going to start paying more attention to how people greet now!