May 9, 2013

La Bise à la Fac

In my old French life, I had the ever so mysterious bise (the traditional French greeting, a.k.a. cheek kissing) down pat.

With my boyfriends family? Yes! When meeting up with friends? Yes! When leaving friends? Yes!

Source: this great video about how to faire la bise, which I already translated.

I have discovered that school is a whole other ball game.

There are 7 of us in my masters program, and we see each other pretty much everyday. Even among our small, close-knit group, things can get a bit complicated.

Do we faire la bise every morning upon first seeing one another? No. But enough of the time to make it complicated? Yes.

For example, if we get to class early enough, we usually faire la bise, but if someone comes into class ten minutes late and is addressed after the class, a bise suddenly becomes optional. Sometimes for no apparent reason that I can tell the bise becomes optional.

Some of my classmates seem to be more pro-bise than others. While this doesn’t cause a problem per se as I now know who will and who wont demand a bise, I find it interesting that some of them are more adamant about it than others.

Source: the video.

Where it starts to get really complicated, however, is the casual crossing of paths. Sometimes, it is acceptable to simply wave. Other times, one is expected to stop and make time for a quick bise and a "ça va?”(how's it going?) before continuing on to one's destination.

To make matters worse, in my experience before la fac (university), a bise was always done upon first interaction, and never again afterwards. Here, even if I've already seen someone and said a casual "salut" (hello), a bise is still on the table for future greetings.

But again, the bise may or may not happen. It depends. On what? I couldn't tell you.

I'm winging it pretty much all the time.


  1. Oh my gosh, somehow I missed that video the first time around. Hilarious!! (except half the people I know in Paris do 4, not 2... which leads to that "how many" issue...)

    Here the problem is with other moms at school pick-up and drop-off. We finally got to the bise after a couple of years with a few of them - one I sort of met at a school function (the "sort of" in that I don't even know her name, ha) and now we do the bise despite not knowing each other's names. All that to reassure you (hahahaha) that the awkwardness never ends! ;)

  2. Haha - ah yes, the danger or the bise. So tricky and really all about intuition. Lately though, I've decided to take matters into my own hands and won't be intimidated into a bise I don't feel like (ie casual street bise). Stand strong!

  3. I'm French and I still don't understand the rules either... It gets even more complicated depending on where you're from or where your friends are from because the number of "bises" is different. :-) My boyfriend is Belgian and the rules are not the same: I feel like in Belgium, they kiss much less than in France, and when they do, it's not the same number of "bises" as in the North of France. And the weirdest thing is that in my company, we all kiss to say hi in the morning. Even the boss! Of course men just shake hands but girls are supposed to "faire la bises" to everyone! Another stupid rule... Anyway, I understand that you might be a bit lost with this French tradition. I'm not 100% confortable with it either (not to mention that most of the time, I don't really like to "faire la bise", even in my own family...

    1. For me the awkward part is the not knowing more so than the actual bise. When I moved back home I never thought I'd miss it, but I did! I saw on Un Diner Presque Parfait that the Belgians only did one bise! I'd never seen so few before, haha.


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