French Lessons: un bisou

If there is anything France has inadvertently done to me is that it’s made me an awkward hugger. I’ve become quite the fan of les bises, the light kiss [un bisou] on each cheek as a greeting and a parting. So the main problem lies when I go back to visit the US and I find myself naturally going for les bises only to at the last minute remember we hug in America, and the result is a rather awkward hug (usually by the end of a trip I get it back to the old days). The other conundrum is how do I greet my American friends when they come visit me in Paris. As much as possible I try to make them accustomed to the French kisses.

The other thing to note about this French kissing, is that personally I tend to always stick with faire un bisou [to give a kiss] rather than the alternative of less familiar baiser, which also can mean to f***! Oh là là! Talk about a fear of miscommunication. Embrasser quelqu’un(e) is another alternative just to play it safe, but can also mean hug.

French Lessons is an ongoing series where I teach you French words while beefing up my Illustrator skills.


  • Ha! Thanks, Anni! I have to say, it’s now the post I look forward to working on the most each week. Who knew conquering my fear of drawing could be so rewarding :)


  • Yes, now when I’m in the states I go in for the bise and realize that that person thinks I’m far too close to their face. Mega awkward when with men. OY.

    These are so wonderful!

  • Hi Anne!
    Nice, but, allow me two small corrections: donner un bisou ( without an “s” because there is only one ) and “biser” is just not used as a verb. On baise la main dune femme. Et l’autre sense de b…er” est bien celui de “f…k”, mais il est moins souvent utillisé

  • Thanks for the corrections, Annick. Deleted the “s.”

    Another French friend on Facebook added: ‎”embrasser” means literally “to hug” but is used with the meaning of kissing. It’s the same semantic shift as “baiser”…

    I don’t think I’ll EVER understand this language!


  • Excellent points! Biggest problem for me is when I go back to the US and I forget and accidentally move in for the bises rather than the hug, I get that “oh, you’re such a French snob!” look from my friends. Pretty funny, actually.

  • I am not a fan of bises at all. Unfortunately it’s the standard way of greeting here in Luxembourg (where I live). To make it worse, it’s not two kisses, it’s three!!! I prefer the British handshake.

  • I like bises although I don’t like giving them to Americans even if they are in France with me, I always feel a little pretentious!

  • As an American in Paris I’m still, after two and half years, getting used to the French bisou.

    The most awkward moments are those with my male in-laws; we’re now getting close enough to the point where our greetings are a strange non-committal blend of handshake & awkward bise (the awkwardness coming mostly from me, of course). But like all cultural bumps in the road, you just have to take it with a dose of humor and do your best.

    I’ve blogged about this as well, and I managed to find an interesting map of the number of bisous in France according to region. If you ever have a minute you may want to check it out:

    Thanks and take care!

  • I wrote this one in the blog of the reader, at times writer, Philippe Sollers, in french :


    Avez vous remarqué, monsieur Sollers, que baiser est presque isophone avec peser, quoique antinome ; que l’on retrouve “besar” et “pesar” en espagnol ; et que dans la langue de ceux qui protestent de véhémence (1) et de leurs îles seules ; on trouve “kiss” et “miss”, cet amour qui contradictoirement (nous) me manque ?

    (1) : Non catholiques.


    L´isophonie is here a neologism – sounding similarly- too lazy to translate the rest; un beso, Anne.

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