According to a recent study conducted by Princeton psychologists1, making a positive first impression is one of the single biggest indicators of a successful business relationship. However, cultures around the world have different greetings to demonstrate respect and create that lasting impression. So, how do you know which greeting to use? A handshake is typical in the United States, a slight bow is common in Japan, and a kiss on the cheek is normal in France.
How To “Faire La Bise”
“Faire la bise” means “to make the kiss” and refers to greeting with a kiss on the cheek. For foreigners not accustomed to kissing on the cheek, a few tips can prove useful when greeting a French national. According to Annie Andre, an expat living in France, to successfully navigate a cheek kiss, you must “lean in and touch the other person’s cheek with your cheek while puckering your lips and making a light kissing sound with your lips.”2 You do not put your lips on the other person’s cheek. This greeting is generally understood as “kiss[ing] the air.”2 There is not a specific cheek that is kissed first, so foreigners should let the native take the lead and lean in first.
Although cheek kissing is most common between two women, a woman and a man or two men, might greet this way, too.3 While the type and level of relationship often determine whether one will greet another with “la bise,” the depth of relationship does not need to be very deep. Mutual friends and even coworkers greet each other with a kiss on the cheek.
This summer, the BYU International Accounting Study Abroad group learned about the role of “la bise” in the business environment when they met with an employee at Intuit, a business and financial software company, in Paris. There are about 40 employees in the Paris office, and according to the host, each employee will say “hello” to every other employee when arriving at the office. When one coworker hasn’t seen another in a while, he or she will often greet the other with a kiss on the cheek.
As “faire la bise” is so common in France, one should expect to greet others in this manner while there. Let the native initiate the greeting, and do not think too much of it. Good luck on your first “French kiss”.