Bisous? 1, 2, 3, 4? French greetings: how many kisses?

17 May 2013

Greeting a French person is always a tricky business. French people love kisses. They greet each other with kisses everywhere, on all occasions (or almost). Even men kiss each other when they meet. Now, having lived abroad for most of my adult life, I am not so used to it any more and get caught 'forgetting' and would rather shake hands than have a sweaty man's face touching mine!! 

Kissing is not that simple though. How many kisses should you give? 1, 2, 3, 4? As a foreigner this is a minefield, and as a native too (I think). Explaining it to a foreigner is even trickier (as my friend  who has been trying to make her German husband understand it for the past 10 years says). But fear not, it seems there is a science to it, albeit very complicated.


I found this fun website, where you can actually vote on how many kisses you give to someone depending on the region you live in. And in each case, you can also choose from which cheek you start. Here are the current results for my region (Orne). I agree. I think, where I am from, people do traditionally give 4 kisses starting on the right.

results as of May 14th 2013

I feel, as is revealed in the breakdown of the results, that young people though are not systematically giving 4 kisses any more. You might give 4 kisses to your elder aunt but not to your friend from University. 1 or 2 would be enough in this case.

This funny video (in French) attempts to explain the custom (from a German/foreigner point of view). I highly recommend watching it, it is very funny but also explains it quite simply. Here are the main points from it:

1. You do not kiss someone with a higher rank than you (ie your boss) unless they initiate it. 
2. Men kiss if they are from the same family or good friends.
3. Even French people don't always know how many kisses to give!
3. Upper classes do tend to give 2 kisses. Working class people go for 4 (there! you know what social class my family is from!).

Now, I hope I have confused you a little bit more... because if you are meeting a university friend who is from a working class family but is now your boss, and you both are men, he is from Paris and you are now in Montpelier, you will have your work cut out. Next time you are in France, find out about the social class, status and origin of the person you meet before kissing them!!!!


  1. So funny! I remember my shock when I went to England and went to a club with my Spanish friend, she introduced me to her male friend and told me that it was usual to give men kisses!As a good girl I was properly shocked about having to kiss a strange man! In the Netherlands, people usually give three kisses, but I don't know from which cheek they start- would have to ask!

  2. It's even more complicated when you question if starting on the right or left means from your perspective or theirs. I studied French custom before going on a student trip. When a French guy greeted me with 3 kisses though, I completely forgot custom and fell in love blushing! Lol.

    I sorely wish I could go back, or at least find a penpal.


  3. Excellent :-)

    I have always found it to be confusing in the Swiss "France voisine" or "frontalier" areas, where someone is very often left hanging. Le gros vent, quoi. :-) We always laugh it off, because it is so common!

  4. But what do when they alternate kissing numbers?


Thank you for your feedback.