Parisian Living

Faire la Bise: The Art of the Parisian Double Air Kiss

by Tory Hoen
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I’ve been back in New York for three weeks and I still can’t stop. Whenever I spend time in Paris, I pick up a habit that is nearly impossible to kick. No, it’s not smoking; it’s worse… it’s the double air kiss (standard Euro protocol for both hello and goodbye).

This maneuver—which generally involves touching cheeks but kissing the air near the other person’s ear—is so ingrained in my muscle memory that it has become completely involuntary to me (much to the chagrin of my American friends). I try to catch myself, but it’s always a split second too late. It happens again and again: the unsuspecting American person I’m double-kissing stands there, utterly bewildered, as on-looking friends roll their eyes and say something along the lines of, “Oh, Tory thinks she’s sooooo Euro now.” Or worse, the other person sort of tries to go with it, and we do an awkward head-dodging thing, and then inadvertently end up making out. Ooops.

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I promise I am not trying to be Euro. In Paris, on fait la bise (we do the standard Parisian double-cheek kiss) every time we say hello and goodbye. If you’re entering or leaving a group, you have no choice but to go around to each person and kiss him or her individually.Depending on how many people you’re hanging out with, this can lead to upwards of 20 or 30 air kisses in a single evening. So believe me when I say: it’s a tough habit to shake.

The frustrating thing is that, by the time I do get the double kiss out of my system, I will probably be heading back to Europe where I will have to relearn to execute the motion with a natural “What? I’m Parisian” confidence. Balking at the moment of double-kiss truth is a dead giveaway that you’re not with the program, so beware.

A few quick rules:

  • In small social settings, you fait la bise with everyone when you arrive. As subsequent people arrive, they will do so as well.
  • In large social settings, you don’t have to circle the whole party doling out air kisses (easy, Tiger). Just prepare to do it when you greet individuals or are introduced to new people.
  • In business settings, the handshake generally reigns supreme. Once you know your colleagues well, the bise may come into play. (Use your discretion).

Take note: In Paris, saying goodbye is important. You do not simply wave to the group as you sprint for a cab — known as filer à l’anglaise (British-style dashing) — nor do you pull an “Irish goodbye” (i.e. drink too much and then slip out the back door). Closure is a key element of proper etiquette, and there is a protocol (more air kissing!).

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Once you get used to it, la bise is actually quite a pleasure. It’s fun, and it’s so institutionalized that you rarely have to deal with the awkward, “I sort of know that person… should I say hi?” The answer is yes; you should say hi. And you should kiss them and be friends, and everything will be lovely and oh-so-French. On that note, I don’t think I should be trying to kick this habit at all, even if it is geographically inappropriate. After all, Paris isn’t a place—it’s a state of mind.

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Written by Tory Hoen for the HiP Paris Blog. Looking for a fabulous vacation rental in Paris, Provence, or Tuscany? Check out Haven in Paris.

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Written By

Tory Hoen

After attending Brown University and spending two years in New York, Tory bought a one-way ticket to Paris to pursue her dream of becoming a writer (and of drinking wine at lunch). During her time in the City of Light, she chronicled the euphoric highs and the laughable lows of ex-pat life on her blog, A Moveable Beast. Though she's now based in New York, she travels frequently to Montreal and Brazil, and she'll use just about any excuse to jet to Paris ("I ran out of fleur de sel"). A regular contributor to Hip Paris, Tory also writes for New York Magazine, Time Out New York, and she is a co-author of Gradspot.com's Guide To Life After College. View Website

11 comments on “Faire la Bise: The Art of the Parisian Double Air Kiss

the greeks do one kiss, the french do two, and the swiss do three. vivé le suisse! : )

I’ve found nibbling on their ears helps break the ice too.

[…] a table in New York until all party members arrive. Friends even more annoyed when I accidentally double air kiss them. • Then stay out too late. • Then go to bed, way too […]

[…] Tory Hoen writing on The HiP Paris blog details her humorous encounters with muscle memory whenever she returns from Paris.  Her American friends give her a hard time as she describes in “faire la bise – the art of the Parisian double air kiss.” […]

In the Midi [the south of France], where I live “on fait la bise” twice, starting on the left (mostly). Coming from England, and not sure of exactly how it should be done, I have observed the etiquette closely. “Air kisses” are not necessarily the norm here (though may well be in Paris). Observation suggests to me that the “ideal” bise is as follows:

1. The person who arrives initiates the kiss
2. He or she kisses the persons who is standing there on the left cheek, making a kissing sound (not in the air!)
3. The person who has just arrived then offers their right cheek to be kissed.

However, it has to be said that for this to work everybody has to recognise the same etiquette.

If I remember rightly there was a scene in the French film, “La Lectrice”, where the professor tells the student, that she doesn’t know how to kiss properly because she does air kisses!

Hey all. Thanks for your comments! Obviously, there’s a lot of nuance here. What’s up Mehdi… how does la bise work in Berlin?

Moi, je te fais la grosse bise.

In Paris, though, at least it’s clear that you’re expected to do 2 kisses! In other parts of the country, it’s sometimes 3, even 4 cheek kisses… talk about horribly confusing and, if you guess the wrong number, quite awkward!

I really started to like the double kiss when we lived in Italy…but which direction do you go in France? I noticed it changed from country to country and a couple times I almost hit the lips:)

Lovely idea. More love and touch might make us a more peaceful country and not so abrasive. I love this idea. Thanks for sharing.

Hey! Thanks for putting a link to my post about ‘la bise.’ You seem to handle it with much more style than I do. I’m a misplaced New Yorker in Paris. I love Paris, but think about NYC all the time. Maybe we should swap for awhile…Have fun!

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