French social customs 1: kissing

For my other posts about French social customs, please look in Customs under Topics in the right-hand sidebar.

The issues of whom to kiss, when to kiss and how to kiss are a potential social minefield.  Here are some tips. 

a) Whom:  French children always present themselves to guests (male and female) to be kissed. This is regarded as quite natural, although it’s something you’d be arrested for in England. My husband has never been able to get his head round this and always tries to shake hands with them, much to their bafflement.  If meeting someone for the first time, always shake hands, even if it’s a woman.  It’s acceptable to kiss them at the end of a social evening if you have met them for the first time that evening. Never try to kiss female shopkeepers, gendarmes or civil servants. Frenchmen sometimes kiss each other, but only if they are very good friends of long standing – if you are a man, don’t try it.

b) When: if you are on kissing terms, greeting and valedictory kisses are expected whether you meet someone in the street or at a social event.  Some French office workers kiss each other (or shake hands if they’re men) on arriving at the office, on returning to the office after lunch and on going home in the evening.

c) How: the hardest of all. The standard number of times is twice – once on each cheek. In certain parts of France, however, such as the Aveyron, they insist on three. In that case, which cheek should you start with? Not an easy one to call – best to wait to see which one is proffered first. The Parisians, who have to be different, do it four times. This can make the beginning and end of social events a very long drawn-out affair and probably explains why nothing in France ever starts on time.

Copyright © 2010 A writer’s lot in France, all rights reserved.

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About nessafrance

My husband and I moved to an 18th-century farmhouse in SW France in 1997. I am fascinated by French history, rural traditions and customs and enjoy seeking out the reality behind the myths. I run my own copywriting business and write short stories and the occasional novel in my spare time. My husband appears here as the SF, which stands for Statistics Freak, owing to his penchant for recording numbers about everything.
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10 Responses to French social customs 1: kissing

  1. Ah, the kissing
    Still a minefield with different customs within one tiny village here!!!!
    And I get kissed by the builder’s sister now..but not by the builder.. I know you should follow their lead, but I get the distinct vibe that he’s waiting for me!

    Liked by 1 person

    • nessafrance says:

      Gosh, you have found one of the posts I wrote right at the beginning of this blog, seven years ago! Where we live, it’s three kisses. Less than 10 km away it’s two. What is one to do? And who do you kiss? I am on kissing terms with one of our local priests (I’m not Catholic), but certainly not with another. A minefield, as you say. But, hey, it makes life interesting.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Karin says:

    Hi Vanessa, where we live, in the Cher, they kiss 4 times. Same as in Paris.

    Where I come from in Holland, we also kiss but 3 times. I always forget the 4th one here :-)!!

    This you also might like, I’ve noticed your ‘all rights reserved’:
    http://myfreecopyright.com

    Have a nice day,
    Karin at fransblond.wordpress.com

    Like

    • nessafrance says:

      Hi, Karin. That’s interesting about the Cher. I saw a good blog post on kissing in France the other day which was featured on ‘Freshly Pressed’ in WordPress. I can’t remember the URL now, but they had found a really good map of France showing how many times people kiss in different départements. I wonder how they did the research!
      Thanks very much for the link. I’ve been to have a quick look and I think I’ll sign up.
      Bonne soirée, Vanessa

      Like

      • Karin says:

        People in the Cher are quite to themselves; normally it’s 2 kisses, but if they like you, or you’re family it’s 4. I would have helped with the research, nice job!!

        You’re welcome for the link, it’s just that extra protection; I had problems before on another blog from our proprietair and she took ‘things’ from my blog. It just feels saver.

        Have a nice day, karin

        Like

  3. Tina Nyström says:

    Hi Vanessa!

    I was laughing out loud when I read this. It is so
    accurate and funny! I will return to your blogg, have saved it as a favourite.
    Hope you´re all well!
    Tina

    Like

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