The Art of French Kissing
Sun, April 18, 2021

The Art of French Kissing

Saying hello in French is a fascinating ritual of planting air kisses on each cheek while making kissing noises / Photo by: Ekaterina Pokrovsky via Shutterstock


Oh no monsieur, do not get amorous. This is not about the torrid, tongue sucking smooching you are imagining. This is about the chic, the fashionable manner of saying bonjour, alo, salut!

Saying hello in French is a fascinating ritual of planting air kisses on each cheek while making kissing noises. Called “la bise,” this barely a kiss on one’s cheek is a deceptively tricky French greeting custom especially to beginners still getting the hang of the French kissing concept. But no matter what, la bise is now an integral slice of the French culture.

Where La Bise Originated

It was no other than Saint Paul, the apostle of Jesus Christ, who instructed his followers to ‘salute one another with a holy kiss.’ In no time, the ‘holy kiss’ became a common central piece of Catholic ceremonial greeting among early Christian Romans. Over time, the biblical lip-to-lip greeting evolved into a kiss on the cheek.

The Romans, as they expanded their empire, popularized the airy-cheeky kiss tradition throughout Europe and North Africa. The act of kissing was described in several words: a loving kiss is saevium, a friendly kiss is osculum, and a polite kiss is basium. According to Xavier Fauche, a French author who has written about the subject, the latter was believed to be the root of today’s la bise. On the other hand, career diplomat Andy Scott and author of the book One Kiss or Two: In Search of the Perfect Greeting, traces the kiss back to the peasant custom that the metropolitan elites adopted. Today, la bise remains a strong French tradition welcomed by the French people with open arms.

It was no other than Saint Paul, the apostle of Jesus Christ, who instructed his followers to ‘salute one another with a holy kiss’ / Photo by: Ververidis Vasilis via Shutterstock


Rules on French Kissing

La Bise is called by many names: el beso in Spain, beijnhos in Portugal, beijos in Brazil, and beso-beso in the Philippines. But whatever name one calls it, rules remain clear-cut.

To start the process, lean and touch the other person’s cheek with your own cheek. Refrain from touching the cheek with the lips to forego the exchange of saliva for possible spread of germs. At the height of the H1N1 outbreak, the French government issued a temporary ban on la bise.

Pucker you lips and make light lip-smacking sounds. Desist in making the “mwah” sound. It is advisable to place the right or left hand on the other person’s shoulder while leaning to administer la bise. Do not worry about which cheek to kiss first. Although most la bise normally land on the right cheek, just go with the flow.

The number of kisses to give varies by region. According to a web survey, two kisses are the norm in Paris, three in Provence, and four in Loire Valley. It is speculated that the younger generation leans towards two kisses whereas the older generation hangs on to four to five kisses. In other countries, the following count prevails:

• One Kiss: Colombia, Argentina, Chile, Peru, the Philippines

• Two Kisses: Spain, Italy, Greece, Germany, Hungary, Romania, Croatia, Bosnia, Brazil, and some Middle Eastern countries

• Three Kisses: Belgium, Slovenia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Egypt, and Russia

Be sure to take off glasses to avoid the eye-wear collision.

The level and type of relationship usually determine who you should give a cheek-kiss to. La bise is commonly provided to friends and acquaintances, family members, and colleagues. In case the other person is of a higher social status, wait for him to initiate the contact.

Generally primary school children do not greet one another with a kiss; however, parents encourage their kids to give la bise to people in the household of homes they visit.

Teenagers on the other hand, like adults, customarily give la bise to one another, while most men greet one another with a handshake.

Administration of la bise may be allowed for strangers in the following instances:

• Two friends introduced to one another by a mutual friend;

• Friends of friends in a social gathering or when invited in a friend’s home;

• If invited to a small party of around a dozen people, kiss everyone while introducing self;

• In a large gathering (20 people or more), it is difficult to greet everyone although you can kiss those you come in contact with face to face.

Other Nuances of La Bise

A la bise is in order on the following occasions:

- When entering and leaving the house being visited, as greetings and goodbyes to everyone in the house;

- When meeting a friend on the street, stop a while for a la bise before continuing to destination. If you meet again later on in the day, there is no need for another la bise as you have kissed her the first time you met her.

- It is considered polite for a birthday celebrant (boy or girl) to give other kids a kiss as a way of saying thank you for coming and bringing a gift; and

- When congratulating someone during graduation, wedding, and other social events where the person emerges as the winner.

The tradition of la bise is first and foremost a sign of equality as cheeks are on the same plane. The brushing of the cheek with an airy kiss feels so personal, it breaks down barriers and lowers down one's guard. Once la bise is initiated, there is no going back to a handshake. La bise becomes second nature, an instinctive habit you cannot do away with.