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As a French woman with ASD, I often find myself struggling to know if I should do "la bise" (cheek-kiss) in greeting.

In general, I don't like to do "la bise" for various reasons--one of them being that I don't like being that close to or touching a stranger. As such, I would rather not do it when it's not necessary. This may lead other people to think that I'm not really social but as long as they don't think I'm outright rude, it's fine with me.

I had some past experience where I was in a situation where I should have given "la bise" and didn't and the other person took it very badly. It was a friend of my mom visiting at home and I didn't properly greet her. So, now I try to force myself to do "la bise" whenever some friend of my mother comes home.

I know there is a lot of gray area concerning when someone should give "la bise" or not but I was hoping I could find some kind of formal guideline so that I won't have to do "la bise" when it's not really necessary.

I know that "not really necessary" is primarily opinion-based, so I will be the judge of that. But knowing that "in this situation, people strongly expect other to do 'la bise'" or "in this situation, people tend to do 'la bise' half of the time" would be nice.

What's the etiquette concerning "la bise" and when should one do it?


I accepted an answer. Nonetheless, I would still be glad for any answer who might complete what was already been said.

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Disclaimer: A lot of what I say in this answer is already said in Thyerus's answer. But I think it gives enough information to be more than a comment. Maybe a community answer would be a good idea to answer this question.


So, a bit of context here: I'm a male in my late 20s living in the south of France.

I think there are four parameters to take into account to know when you're expected to do "La bise". Namely:

  • Gender
  • Geography
  • Age
  • Social link with the person

So, let take them one by one.

Gender

Most of the time, women are more expected than men to do "la bise". For instance, when I come to work in the morning, I do "la bise" to all my female coworker and shake hands with all the males one. This is of course dependant of the 3 other points, but note than in a situation where one will expect a man to do "la bise", a woman will be even more expected to do so.

Geography

Thyerus said in his answer:

Not sure if it's specific to Alsace but here, I've only witnessed two men doing "la bise" in a father-son situation.

I wouldn't say it's specific to Alsace, but it's really wrong in Provence. A rule of thumb is that in the south, people tend to do la bise a lot more easily than in the north. I don't really know where to draw the line, but I live near Marseille, and I do "la bise" to all my friends, no matter male of female. Once again, there are 2 more points to take into account, but in south of France, the Gender part is (almost) invalidated.

Age

From my experience, younger people tend to do "la bise" more often. Moreover, the greater the age difference, the lesser I'll go for "la bise". I think you can see it the same way as "tutoiement" vs "vouvoiement". If I'm meeting a 60+y/o, I'll probably "vouvoie" them and shake their hand. If they're 20, I'll probably give "la bise" and "tutoie" them.

Social link

Your relation with the other person is also very important. I'll separate it in four categories: Friends, Family, acquaintance, and workplace.

From what I get of your question, the problem occured in family. Once again, this may be cultural, but I always do "la bise" to all my parents friends. Moreover, "la bise" is often see as a more affective and non-formal way to greet someone. If they're your mother friends (as in your anecdote), they probably see you (depending on your age) as "the cute little daughter of my friend" more than "the [whatever job you do] of [whatever company you work for]". So it make sense for them to go for "la bise"

I think friends and family aren't really a problem. You know them well, see them often, and know which one expect you to do "la bise" or not. The 2 main problems are acquaintance (friend of a friend, or friend of family types for instances) and cowokers.

For acquaintances, I think you can use the 3 other points: I get from your question that you're a girl/woman. So, that's 1 point for "la bise". If you happen to live/meet them in south of France, and if they're around your age, there is a 90+% chances they'll go for "la bise". If they're much younger/older than you and in Paris or Brest, they'll probably go for a handshake.

The most troublesome part (for me) is the workplace. As I said in the previous points, I do "la bise" to all my friends, male of female, but I shake hands with all my male coworkers. I also said I do "la bise" to my female coworkers, but I shake hands with my female managers. And doing "la bise" to a manager, no matter if male or female, old or young, in Marseille or in Lille would seems really akward. And just as I'm writting this, I realise that some male managers do "la bise" to female employees, but I've never seen the opposite. To be honest, it's probably one of the most akward part whenever I change team: getting to know if I should do "la bise" or shake hands to my new females cowokers.

Summary

Sadly, I think there is no way to fully answer your question about "when should one do it?". Has you said it's a lot of greyzones. I tried to reduce it to a spectrum with (at least) four dimensions. I hope it helped you a bit, but sadly it still isn't perfect.

TL;DR

Same age, same social status, at least one is female, south of France -> "la bise"

Big age gap, one is the manager of the other, both are male, north of France -> don't even think about "la bise"

Anything in the middle -> Greyzone!

  • That's an amazing answer, thank you! (and for the other people, keep reading, the other answers are great as well) – Ælis Oct 15 '18 at 15:05
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A lot of thing regarding "la bise" depends of the region but some may be the same everywhere. If it's not the case, just know that I'm from Alsace.

First thing that I know: it is not expected and may even seem weird as a male-male greeting. Not sure if it's specific to Alsace but here, I've only witnessed two men doing "la bise" in a father-son situation.

Here I come to a point : You are expected do "la bise" to your family.

I'm pretty sure it's the same in all the country, but as far as I know, you should do "la bise" to your family, even if it's someone you don't know (I was forced to do it to a aunt I've never met before and never met again since then).

You can do "la bise" to your friends.

Well, in my friend circle we don't do that. Probably because I'm the only female and not used to do it. But I had once a friend that was greeting me every morning with "la bise".

You can also do "la bise" with people you work or study.

There again it depends of them. Some are willingly doing it, other are just greeting you without even a handshake. Through my life I had every situation: some people doing "la bise", others giving handshake, others only giving verbal greeting.

A hint that can tell you if you are expected to do "la bise"

It happens here frequently, people are moving closer to you and moves their head toward you to begin the movement for "la bise". If that happens, give your cheek and don't forget the little "smack" noise, some people aren't confortable if you don't make this noise.

You don't do "la bise" but was expected to do it

Don't worry, just explain yourself, saying you don't do frequently "la bise" to people isn't a big deal. Just apologies and say, if you're not against it, that next time you'll do it.

Most of the time, people that are expecting it may find it weird for you to don't do it (my SO's mother was very shocked the first time I encountered her and told her that I don't do "la bise") but they accept and some may even remember that it's not your cup of tea and ask you if you do it or not next time you meet them.

One last thing, if you're at a party or some gathering of people knowing each other

It may be pretty obvious, but if you see everyone else greeting each other with "la bise", you are expected to do the same, even if you don't know anyone.

Hope this help.

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    That's a great answer, thank you for that! (it doesn't account for every possible situation but that probably won't be possible ^^ ). Although, I'm still curious to know what Alsaciens people do in the case of "friend of a friend" situation? – Ælis Oct 11 '18 at 16:41
  • As far as I know, in a "friend of a friend" situation, well, I think I saw both cases. I don't think many people will resent you not to do la bise when you first meet them but if you're not sure you can ask. Asking for it is not common and will surely prompt to do it but at least you'll know what to do. – Thyerus Oct 12 '18 at 7:22
  • @Thyerus could you perhaps edit that information into another paragraph in the answer? We like the information to be in answers, instead of hidden in comments :) – Tinkeringbell Oct 12 '18 at 19:07
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Context for people of IP : French male here, usually in France you do " la bise " in family circle ( females and males ) and close female members in the workplace. In the south of France it's more common to do la bise even from a male stranger to another.

I have the same problem doing la bise, in the workplace for example, I prefer shake hands of my female coworkers as I do it for my male coworkers for, from my point of view, in the interest of equity. In a less important way, doing la bise in a party to female strangers too.

Personally I resolved this problem by simply saying : " I would rather shake hands for equity purpose " or I say " bonjour " with a slight bow of the head, keeping my distance, showing I'm not interested to do a bigger move.

For the first option, most of the people understand very easily. If they feel offended ( mostly female strangers or female coworkers I meet for the first time ) I consider it's more their problem than mine because I consider you don't have to force someone to do something making you uncomfortable. And I don't get why they feel offended, a handshake or a cordial " bonjour " is not that terrible.

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As @Papapouiki said, it depends on the region of France.

In Lyon, you usually do "la bise" to friends and family level. What I means by level is that if a new person is introduced to you by a someone and you can draw a "friend / family" link between the new person, then you "should" do "la bise".

So for example, you do "la bise" to a friend of friend. Same for a family member of a friend. But not for a co-worker of friend.

I also want to add something : when I was teenager, I wanted to do "la bise" to a co-worker of my mum. She didn't want to for some reason. As I was approaching, she firmly offer me her hand. I was a bit surprised at first, but now I think it was completely appropriate.

I think the thing here is not to let things go awkward. When you meet someone new and you don't really know what to do, go ahead and offer her/him a hand. They might be surprised, but they will accept your choice. If you let them choose first, and then specify that you would prefer a handshake, here comes the awkwardness and confusion.

Finally, just an exception in my opinion : I don't think it's a good idea to greet with either "la bise" or a handshake when it's for someone physically weak. It can be elders or sick person, or even kids. Just greets them without approaching them physically.

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If I extract this question from your comment:

"To be clear, I want to know when I should definitively do "la bise", not how to avoid it at all cost."

My answer would be "Never". There is no occasion where you should definitely do "la bise". You can never control how the others will react, so let's focus on YOUR feelings instead, and if doing "la bise" makes you uncomfortable, you shouldn't be forced to do it. There is no courtesy involved in doing it or not, it's not a sign of respect of any kind (like bowing in Japanese culture for example), so if anybody is getting angry for you not doing it it's entirely up to them.

For the context I'm in Belgium so the situation is a bit different (very common for 2 male friends to do it) but still very similar to France.

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    I edited my question after your comment but, since you removed your comment, I couldn't ping you. Here is what I edited: I know that "definitely" is primarily opinion-based, so I will be the judge of that. But knowing that "in this situation, people strongly expect other to do 'la bise'" or "in this situation, people tend to do 'la bise' half of the time" would be nice. Would you mind editing to take that into account? – Ælis Oct 11 '18 at 15:00

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