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The art of « la Bise » (Kissing on the Cheek) – Part 2 (#296)

The last post introduced “la bise” (a kiss on the cheek used as a greeting).  CLICK HERE for the last post (part 1).

It laid out some of the abstract rules of the art.  In this post, we will look at some of the physical rules of exchanging “bises”  (Oh la la !!)

Two kisses, no more, no less

If you’ve travelled outside Canada, you may have noticed that other countries also “font la bise”.

In Europe, the number of kisses can vary.   In some parts of Belgium, the Netherlands, and Switzerland there are three kisses.  In parts of France, there are one, two or three kisses (depending on the region).   Other countries may only have one.

In Hollywood (California), actors love to, well, act…  Thus, Hollywood seems to be creating their own new “bise” tradition in their off-screen lives.   Being the ‘lil attention lovers that they all are way down there in Hollywood, they presumably are doing this to show the whole world how cultured they are (Giving “bises” makes you cultured?  Really??).

But I’ve noticed they’re not quite sure how many kisses to give, and it has become one big mess.  I’ve seen some Hollywood actors give up to eight “bises!”   That’s almost enough to get someone pregnant!   (Too much wine at their parties if you ask me!!).

Here’s the rule in Canada and Québec: 

  1. Do NOT follow Hollywood’s lead (please!!… For the love of God, do NOT follow Hollywood’s lead), and
  2. Just stick to two kisses.

Simple, simple!  So if you screw it up, then it’s your own fault.  (Count… 1… 2… Done!).

Start on the left, and move to the right

(Isn’t that a song??  To the left, to the left… There goes my clear head for the day!!  To the left, to the left… )

Just as different countries give different numbers of “bises”, various countries start on different sides of the cheek.  Some countries my be on the left, others on the right.

BUT here in Canada, when you give your “bises”, give a peck starting on the LEFT cheek first, then finish on the right.   The person you’re “bising” will reciprocate at the same time, and all should go as planned.

If you start on the right, but the other person starts on the left, you’ll head bunt, get a bleeding nose, or be Frenching in the most awkward sense of the word.   Don’t start on the right, don’t aim for the chin, and keep the forehead as a no-go zone.   Just stick to the left.  (To the left, to the left… damn song is in my head!!)

Keep a little bit of distance, unless…

Feel comfortable to stand close enough to put your hands on each other’s’ shoulders when giving your “bises”.

You should be close enough that your elbows are slightly bent, but not close enough that you’re rubbing your unmentionables together.   You should not be so far that you have to stretch your arms to eternity to reach the other person.

There is however an “unless” in this equation.   Remember a little earlier I mentioned that you might find yourself in a rather intimate situation — one in which it could be appropriate to give a hug and a “bises” all-in-one? (a “bisug”)?

A “bisug” might be appropriate at a funeral, wedding, Christmas, with close family and close friends.  You want to keep the intimacy, while keeping the somberness or joyousness of the occasion – all wrapped into one !! (Yippy!!)

When you kiss, what are you kissing??

Last point… What are you kissing?

Generally speaking, you’re not actually kissing the person (ie: don’t plan on making lip-to-skin contact).   Maybe they do in some countries… but in Canada we generally don’t (and hence, our kids only have 2 eyes).

Kiss the air.  If anything, just pretend there is a troll sitting on the shoulder of the person who you’re kissing.  You want to give that little troll a peck on the lips, thus avoiding any mouth-to-cheek contact with the real person.


But when I say peck, I do NOT mean a full-out kiss.  Just make a little “fish breathing” motion.  NO sound (other than a fish breathing sound from your lips parting), NO saliva, NO tongue, NO ocean whirlpool funneling or gulping & sucking noise… NO NOTHING.

A peck to the wind… that’s it, that’s all.

With that, you’re now an expert in the art of “la bise!!”

Now, go get’em!!!!

The art of « la Bise » (Kissing on the Cheek) – Part 1 (#295)

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
  • Handshakes
  • 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 bisemeans 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 !!)

Click HERE for the next post on gettin’ physical with your “bises”