Parisian Living

Paris Tips: Making Small Talk A La Parisienne

by Victoria Wall
Written By

Victoria Wall

Following hours of foreign dictionary studying at university and a tapas-and-cerveza filled year in Madrid, Victoria decided it was high time to put her French and la belle vie Parisienne to the test. This Brit from near-London initially worked as an enthusiastic-yet-underpaid English teacher and has now become a translator-copywriter-community manager for a French website. Two years after arriving in Paris, she has had ample opportunity to fall amoureuse with every single arrondissement of the city of love and light, from picture postcard Montmartre to the winding backstreets of the almost provincial 20ème. View Victoria Wall's Website

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17 comments on “Paris Tips: Making Small Talk A La Parisienne

I think you meant the cheek on the left as you’re looking at the person (which is their right cheek). You definitely “go left” first!

I have read about the bisoux in a few spots, but no one mentions — when you say “start on the left” does that mean I go left, OR that I first kiss the other person’s left cheek?

In France you kiss the left cheek first! 🙂

LOVE the post. I was WAY to cheery in my bon jour when I was there LOL. I am sure that gave me away 🙂

We’re far enough from Paris to make 4 bises obligatoire!

totally agree with everything! so true… 🙂
i know many 2 and/or 4 ‘bises’ people here; always start on the left side (the more careful friends take off their glasses first…), after the ‘ca va’ you can still ask: Et comment vas-tu?! THEN, they know you wanna know…

Fantastic post. I used to work on the top floor of my building and really found the part about the bonjour, bonne journee to every entry and exist on the elevator very funny!

Christine Hueber

And it’s very different how you act publicly versus privately … I have French friends who are incredibly effusive, but when you buy a croissant … it’s a separate world. ; )

jenn {bow tie & bustle}

Oh my gosh! I loved this post! I wish I had read something like these before I spent time 5 weeks in Paris last fall. I was definitely far to “cheery” with all of my bonjour’s and would have loved to have known to respond with a simple “ca va” vs. attempting to say how I was feeling in my horribly broken French. Can’t wait to go back to Paris and act far more nonchalant! Great post!

Being in Italy can get confusing! They do kiss the opposite of in France, but, …. not always. The problem is if you start one way and they the other you end up in the middle!

I quickly learned in Paris (after a few uncomfortable dinners where I was so stressed about the kissing upon departure of ALL the many people that I stayed WAY too long) that the wave and the ‘ciao tout le monde’ works quite well indeed.

You just reminded me of the expression “Filer à l’anglaise”, or to leave without saying goodbye. How appropriate…

As for bises, I was at a party in Paris and had fun watching an Italian friend do bises right-to-left to everyone. Awwwwwkward!

Christine Hueber

Love it! I’m there again for September and sooo looking forward to it!


Very well-written, entertaining and helpful information! Headed to Paris next week for three months. A question: I’m looking for short term painting or drawing workshops as a way to improve skills in that realm as well as in conversational french. Will be living in the Marais. Any suggestions on where to look / who to contact?? Merci!!!

Love this…and it seems the “ça va” is equivalent to the American “how are you”…we don’t really want a long explanation, ha. Also, I learned my lesson at a French party where I had to “bise” about 30 people…it was exhausting!! 😉

The left-to-right bis gets me in trouble when I go to the south. I was unaware that I had even developed that left-first habit when I realized all my bis’ in Marseille were starting out with accidental lip contact.

It was also awkward when I found out that men don’t usually bis on their first meeting. I think I worked through half a party worth of men before someone told me.

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