This will be a two-part post on the art of “La Bise”
When greeting someone in English Canada, there are generally three options for physical salutations:
- Waving & hand gestures
- A hug.
The above three salutations also exist for Francophones, but Francophones have one additional salutation:
- “La Bise” — otherwise known as a kiss on the cheek (well, actually two).
I’ve noticed that more and more English Canadians are getting hot-and-heavy with this part of Canada’s Francophone culture… adopting it little-by-little as part of their own culture as the years pass.
Different circumstances dictate which of the above four gestures will be the one to use.
All of the above are acceptable as a salutation when saying hello and goodbye.
The word “bise” means “kiss” or “peck”. “Faire la bise” means to “give a kiss or peck“.
The other day in Toronto I saw a royal “bise” muck-up. Thus, a short kissing manual might be in order (never thought I’d be writing a manual on how to kiss).
I was with a group of Francophone friends. One person in our group ran into an Anglophone they knew. The Francophone went to give their Anglophone friend a quick “bise”, but the Anglophone was a bit taken aback.
The Anglophone took a step back at the moment of the actual “bise”, making it so the Grand Canyon suddenly grew between them. Both women were therefore forced to bend at the waist and stretch their arms waaaay out to touch each other.
Worse yet, the Anglophone started to kiss on the wrong side of the cheek. This caught the Francophone off-guard. The Francophone was forced to to an awkward self-correcting to avoid a nose-to-nose collision (like the Titanic hitting an iceberg), or worse… a full-on mouth-to-mouth kiss (these two ladies were friends, but I don’t think they were that kind of “friend”).
To add to the quickly growing pile of awkwardness, the Anglophone only intended to give one “bise”, and thus was caught off guard when the Francophone went for a second one (double-dips). This made for a strange pause between both “bises”. It also made it so the Anglophone didn’t know when to stop — and she went in for thirds. This again caught the Francophone off guard.
Instinctively, after the third “bise” both women promptly pulled away from each other in a move which looked like they were trying to avoid being hit by a semi-truck at full highway speed.
And there was one last “no-no”: The Anglophone’s “bise” involved kissing the Francophone on her cheek with “skin-to-“mouth” contact (instead of trying to pucker the clouds in the sky).
You could see that both women just wanted to get this awkward greeting over and done with as fast as possible. Both were left a little red-faced. No time was spared in changing subjects.
With that, here is my humble attempt at explaining how to “faire la bise” in CANADA and QUÉBEC.
The gender equation:
Point 1: In Canada, men do NOT give other men “bises”.
In France and some other places, you may see men giving other men “bises”, but we do not do this in Canada – so don’t try it.
I will say that I have seen gay men give other gay men “bises” (it is 2015 after all)… but this might be the only appropriate circumstance in Canada.
Point 2: Men and women can exchange “bises”, as can women with other women.
Acceptable circumstances in which to “faire la bises” (give a kiss)
Point 1: Unlike in Francophone Europe, we do not “bise” our bosses, colleagues or business associates (even in Europe, this is dependent upon the nature of the workplace).
With that said, if your boss or work associate is also your friend, and if you socialize with your boss outside of the workplace, by all means, “bise-away” as much as you like… outside of work.
There are exceptions. Let’s say you have been working with your colleagues very closely and very intimately for a long period of time. You all get together for an event, a gala, or some other momentous reason. Then yes, a “bise” is acceptable (a holiday event, a gathering for a signing of a major contract, two business delegations who know each other very well meet to seal-the-deal, etc.). It’s a joyous occasion, and kisses are “joyous”, right??
As a general rule, unless you feel you are the “bise-God” of all “bises”, don’t initiate work-place “bises” yourself. Follow what others do. Otherwise, just stick to handshakes (handshakes are still the workplace norm 99% of the time in Canada).
Point 2: This brings me to the second point. A “bise” in Canada and Québec is mostly a gesture between friends (and to a certain extent, family – which I’ll talk about further below).
Look at it this way: Picture a scale of “formalness & intimacy” from 1 to 10, with 1 being the least formal but most intimate, and 10 being the most formal and lest intimate.
Lets use the above scale to compare various situations:
- You might hug your mom. If you have not seen her for a long time, you might hug her and give here “bises” at the same time (remember, “bises” are kisses, and kisses are “joyous” — who doesn’t like a good “bising”!?!?).
- If you’re sitting down with your boss for your annual work evaluation, you would shake her / his hand. (Formal, very very formal… unless it ends up being some sort of momentous joyous occasions, at which point you “maybe” could get away with a “bise”, and asking for a raise!!)
- If you’re gathering with friends, you could use “bises” (or maybe hugs).
- You may sometimes combine hugs & “bises” into one gesture if the people you are greeting are a 2 to 4 on the scale (would you call that a “bisug?”)
- Lets say you met someone who you do not know, but over the course of a few hours, you come to know that person fairly well through the exchange of personal stories (over the course of a meal, a drink, an activity… or “an activity” [use your imagination]). You may have started out with a handshake or a wave, but by the time you part ways, you may very well be at the point of exchanging “bises”, “hugs”… or “other” (again use your imagination).
- Case in point, I was invited by some very casual acquaintances to have brunch at their home with a group of people. After three hours I knew everyone in the room rather well. We were all on “bises” terms by the time I left (just “bises” and handshakes; nothing else).
The next post will look at some of the physical rules of the “bise” (Oh la la !!)
RELATED POSTS: “TU” VERSUS “VOUS” (2 POSTS)
- The use of “VOUS” versus “TU” — in EUROPE – Post 1 of 2 (#268)
- The use of “VOUS” versus “TU” — in CANADA – Post 2 of 2 (#269)