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“Faire la bise” and “Santé !”: two French common traditions

Myriam Arcangeli 

The French have a few traditions that are worth knowing about before setting foot in France for the first time. A couple of these traditions kick in as soon as you make French friends: they dictate how you are going to be greeted by your friends and how you should enjoy your drink with them afterwards.

French people greet each other by either using “la bise” or by shaking hands. La bise consists of touching opposite cheeks on both sides of the face, one at a time, and blowing a kiss in the air while doing so. It is important to make a kissing sound with your lips and not your voice, or your bise will not be right! Unfortunately, the set of rules that govern la bise are so complex that even the French themselves are sometimes unsure about what to do.

These rules depend on one’s gender. In general, women will give la bise to both men and women, while men will have to choose between shaking hands, which is a bit more formal, and giving each other la bise, when they are more than simple acquaintances. There are also important regional variations: while most of France blows two kisses, some regions prefer to use one, three, four, or even five kisses. If you are confused about the number of kisses your friends expect, you can visit this helpful website where locals have been polled about the number of kisses they prefer:

Another solution is to be ready to follow the cues given by your friends. If they have never given you la bise, there is a good chance they will start by asking: “On se fait la bise ?”

Another typical social French tradition takes place during the “apéritif” or more commonly called “apéro”, which is a social and relaxing time spent with friends, having conversations, drinks and snacks, before lunch or dinner. First, it is polite to wait for everyone to have something to drink before you start consuming any food or beverage. Secondly, the custom is to cheer before drinking. Cheering is done by saying a quick toast, most often: “À votre/ta/notre santé !” or “À la vôtre/tienne/nôtre !”, or even just “Santé !”.

It is polite to touch everyone’s glasses with yours, and more importantly, to look others in the eye as you do so. Not looking each other in the eye is said to bring bad luck and is therefore quite impolite!

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