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Southern France
Lynn Deasy is a freelance writer, author, foodie, and garden tinkerer. She lives in a 600 year old house in southern France with her husband, Christophe. Currently, she is looking for a literary agent for her memoir CA VA? STORIES FROM RURAL LIFE IN SOUTHERN FRANCE which examines the oddities of French provincial living from an outsider’s point of view through a series of adventures that provide more than a fair share of frustration, education, admiration, and blisters…. yes, lots and lots of blisters. Lynn blogs every Monday, Wednesday, and sometimes Friday.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

La Bise

The kiss or la bisous.

It’s about as awkward as a moment can get for a foreigner in France: la bise (pronounced BEEZ) or the kiss.  Well, it’s not really a kiss, it more of a little cheek to cheek embrace accompanied by a small kissing sound that says hello, and everyone uses it.  It’s replaces the good ole American handshake or hearty pat on the back.  It’s not sexually, but crosses a line of personal space we Americans have drawn for ourselves and places us in a world where physically personal greetings are the norm.  It takes some getting used to and is, at times, complicated.

 La bise is used all over France and depending on the geographic location, the number of “kisses” can vary.  The trick is knowing the number.  For example, in Paris, la bise is two; one on the left cheek and one on the right.  La bise in Toulouse is four, Provence it is three, and where I live, two.  This does presents some problems.  Christophe grew up with the “3 kiss bise”, so naturally, I followed suit.  When greeting friends who have a “2 kiss bise” there is always an awkward moment between the second and third bise.  Do we kiss again, or do we stop there?  There’s generally a pause and a comment, “oh that’s right, you do three” and then an uncomfortable third kiss arrives before we can move on with a discussion.  Other times, I’ve stopped at two, but that always add confusion when we leave (which is also accompanied by a bise and follows the same rules) or the next time we see each other again.  It’s a predicament.

What do I do?  After flipping back and forth and having too many cumbersome kisses brush my check as I’ve stared to speak, I’ve decided to stick to my guns and follow the “3 kiss bise”.  I’ve taken charge of the situation, got over the awkwardness and made the third kiss mandatory.  I sometimes get a look, but then I give nod, a sturdy pat on the back, and a firm American handshake.  Then, we just move on to the conversation.


  1. Reminds me of the receiving line at my wedding. Nightmare. And--not for the first time--I was glad to not wear glasses. I've seen catastrophe strike between two glasses-wearers more than once.

  2. Guilty of the glasses catastrophe!