French Kissing: Just how many cheek kisses to give

The French bise (salutatory kiss on the cheek) is always slightly awkward for those of us who haven’t grown up using it. Do you kiss once, twice, three times, or even four? Fortunately this map, made by a Frenchman named Gilles Debunne, gives a geographical explanation for just how many cheek kisses you should administer. The map was made after a poll that Debunne did with over 18,000 people, asking just how many bises they were used to doing upon meeting a fellow compatriot.

Unfortunately, a map can only do so much, and even within some départements there is still confusion on just how many bises to do. But here are some basic rules for French cheek-kissing that will help to make your introduction to a French person a little less awkward:

  • You don’t need to kiss the cheek of a superior (a boss, the President, etc.).
  • Offer your right cheek; just like when you stretch out your arm for a handshake.
  • Men can get away with not kissing each other hello; this is often reserved for very close friends or males with a familial connection.
  • If you don’t feel comfortable kissing people on the cheek, play the foreigner card and at least go for a handshake. Definitely make eye contact with everyone in the room; not making an effort to give an official hello is a major faux pas.

If your French is up to speed you might find this video amusing, otherwise check out the interactive version of the map here.