How many times should you kiss a French person?

"La bise" is an integral part of French greeting culture which normally involves planting an air kiss on each cheek while making a kissing noise, but the number of bises to give, or even on which side to start, is often confusing.

You can look at ten "maps" and they will all show something different, but the general rule of thumb seems to be 3 in the south, 2 in the middle and 4 in the north. The truth is there is no set number – in the same county it can vary from one village to the next along with their traditions and customs. Down here in the south it is generally 3, unless you are family or really close friends then it is 4 and 2 for a business colleague. Even the French get confused. So there you go, it’s as clear as mud!


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The French do "la bise" like other cultures shake hands. When doing "la bise" a man can choose whether he kisses another man or shakes his hand, but he will generally always kiss the women.

The tradition of "la bise" originates from the Romans who, as their empire grew throughout Europe and North Africa, spread the greeting derived from the word basium meaning a kiss signifying courtesy or politeness. However during the 14th century people stopped this ritual as a result of the plague and it didn't make a reappearance until after the First World War, and only as recent as post-1968 did men start kissing each other.

Other quarters put forward an argument to ban "la bise" because it transmits germs and illnesses. According to one Doctor based in Montpellier, he says this is hard to justify as shaking hands is far more ‘contagious’ than air kissing, as the most ‘dirty’ germ festered parts of our bodies are the hands.

Carole Delga, president of the Occitanie Region, is very much for "la bise" saying she finds it an important ritual greeting that provides a rare physical contact and is a sign of friendship, respect and equality. She finds this a lovely French gesture.

Psycho sociologist Dominique Picard says that civilisations fall into two categories: contact and non-contact. French culture is very much in the contact category while Asian culture, for example, falls in the non-contact. She says, “In France, we are a civilisation that enjoys contact: in greeting we touch each other, we put a hand on a shoulder. The bise is the maximum social contact.” She goes on to say that "la bise" is a traditional value, a greeting and a sociability which is extremely important and very specific to France.

To conclude, all that can be said of "la bise" is that it is a part of French heritage that will always have an element of surprise!