First, what is “la bise”?
It is the most common way to greet someone for French people. Even if back in time it was only reserved for women, it is not weird to see 2 men cheek-kissing. But, it is only to be done in private circles, in more professional environment, handshakes are still a standard.
How does it work?
Easy. You just need to put your cheek on the other person cheek and then, add the sound of a kiss. Careful, this sound must be delicate, no big smack” or “mwah”. Depending on the area you are in, the number of “bises” can change. 2 times is the most common though. If it is not where you are, don’t worry, the person will simply let you know with “no, here it is 4” and you will add as many “bises” necessary. We start with the right cheek then the left in the majority of cases but you better keep your eyes open to avoid any false move.
To greet, thanks, wish a happy birthday or a happy new year, say goodbye… French people cheek-kiss for everything and often… very often. If you think it is strange or sanitary, you should know that la bise is actually a lot more hygienic than a handshake. Indeed, you touch a lot more things with your hands than with your cheeks. Also, don’t forget that there no actual kiss, just a hug and a kissing sound.
Why? What are the origins of the bise?
Pretty hard to say when it started because of how ancient the tradition is. The bise has always been a way to show your affection and in some ways to prove that you accept someone as a friend. Indeed, let someone get less than 6 inch away from you let him or her get in your “personal area”. In short, you recognize this person as a friend and show her that you trust her. Today, it is mostly a norm and everyone respects it without thinking about it.
Recently, a debate around “la bise” has been started by the mayor of a small village in the south-east of France. She finds the tradition so forced that she became “unbearable”. In consequence, she simply asks for the abolition of this tradition, talking about a “gain of time” and to decrease the “risks of spreading diseases”. The debate is on and started making people talk a lot on social networks. And you, what do you think about it?