Kiss or shake hands in France: 5 golden rules

Salut c’est Géraldine!

Everytime you meet a French person, you have to greet her.

On top of a simple « Bonjour », you’ll kiss (faire la bise) or shake her hand (serrer la main).

Here comes THE big question: “When to kiss and when to shake hands?”.

This is what you’ll discover in today’s episode of Comme une Française TV:

Click to watch « Kiss or shake hands? My 5 golden rules about greeting in France »:

Et toi?
Your French will improve ONLY if you take action on what you learn on Comme une Française TV.

Share your experience by leaving a comment below this video :
Write down 1 situation where you felt embarrassed when greeting a French person. Apply the 5 golden rules and tell us what you will do next time you meet.

It’s the best area to start discussions and ask questions!

Géraldine

PS: New feature below: test your French after you’ve watch the video.

Join the conversation!

  • Thanks for covering the “never hug” rule. I never knew that (not that I’ve offered hugs to people I don’t know, but still. . .)

  • Bonjour,
    I was introduced with about 8 french people and all I did was I kissed only 2 and waved and said hello to the rest :DD…. thankfully they laughed,… but if they wouldn’t I would still think that it is fine (:

    Merci Geraldine for the tips !!!

  • When I meet and am introduced to friends of friends in France they usually kiss me but I seem to always automatically put my hand on their right shoulder and sort of pull them in a bit – I think it’s a nervous thing! Is it normal to do this? Is it too much like hugging? I have noticed French people doing it before but once I did it to someone and they looked uncomfortable that I had touched them on the shoulder!

    • Bonjour Charlotte,

      Touching can be uncomfortable for some people so don’t be surprised if people don’t like it.
      However, what you describe seems ok to me as I often put my hand on their arm too. 🙂

  • Hi Geraldine, I have seen that in french movies that men often kiss others men hihi it’s funny here in Mexico if a man kiss another man, I think the first one will get a punch in his face hihii, I also know that russian men always kiss each other, it’s just an issue of cultural points of view, thank you very mucho for posting this!!!

  • Dear Geraldine, I am a newcomer to your site and am loving it, thank you! I do not live in France, but as we have a home there, I am a frequent visitor. I really appreciated your tips on kissing/hand shakes/hugging. Now perhaps you can help me with something else – the whole tu toyer/vous voyer question. I understand that vous is the more formal of the two, but after what period of time can one start to use tu and how does one go about this. Do you ask “Alors, c’est bien si maintenant on commence a tu-toyer?” For example, I have employed the same gardien couple for over two years now and continue with the vous form of address, but think I would feel more comfortable if I could use tu. The gardien is perhaps a bit older than me, but the gardienne is the same age. I would really appreciate your assistance with this!
    Salut, Colette

    • Bonjour Colette,
      Tutoiement and Vouvoiement are a tricky topic even for French natives.
      As your gardien is employed by you, you will probably stay on a “Vous” level forever.
      Most “professional” relations stay with “vous”. It shows a respectful distance between you.
      The “Tu” will be used between colleagues at the same level.

  • Bonjour Geraldine , I’m following your videos and the lessons are so cool!
    Well , I”m receptionist from a hotel and we receive many foreignes from every where in the world , we received a french woman and I was chenck in her some days ago and she started to talk with me in english and I started to but I said some words for her in french, What can I do?! or not? (maybe her want practice her engilsh ) just talk in english?

    • Hi Jef,
      Thanks for your kind words.

      You are right.

      If your French is really good, notify politely you can communicate in French.
      And if she continues in English, let her practice.
      You can use a phrase such as :
      “Si vous le souhaitez, nous pouvons également parler français.”

      If your French is not so good, it’s always nice to hear a “Bonjour”, a “Au revoir” and a “Merci”.
      As we like the fact that the receptionnist is making an effort to speak French and likes our country. 😉

  • Salut, Géraldine!

    I didn’t know that a hug is more intimate than a kiss in France! Je viens des Etats-Unis, et ici j’embrasse tous mes amis.

    I visited a male friend and his fiancee in Belgium last year, and upon seeing him, I gave him a hug—I have not seen him in a very long time. I was also very used to hugging my friends that I figured it’s the least awkward thing that I can do. (I thought since we’ve been friends for long, a handshake would be too weird, and since we’re both men that a kiss would be too weird as well.)

    He didn’t correct me, even when I asked him the day after how I should greet his friends that he introduces to me: Shake hands or kisses.

    Oh well! I learn something new everyday!

  • Hi Géraldine !
    Your golden rules are an excellent summary of my experience in almost 20 years of France now. However, I developed two personal exceptions to them.
    1) I learned how to avoid kissing whenever I really do not want to kiss a particular person. I make it very clear in my body language and do not give in to the powerplay some men like to manoeuvre women in. If that seems rude of me, tant pis.
    2) In professionnal situations, I now sometimes impose kissing both men and women whenever I feel I need to show my integration in a group of people or my status as an equal in the hierarchy. It’s a way of saying that I am not an outsider, a newcomer, or a secretary, but a full player in the field.
    I would like your reaction !
    Erica

    • Hi Erica
      Yes, your comment show that you have grasp the higher subtleties of French social situation and it’s exacly how a French woman would do!
      Well done
      Corinne

  • I once was very embarrassed when I was younger (26 years old) and was visiting le parc alone and an old French man came over, kneeled down and kissed my hand while I was sitting alone. I was so scared and did not understand / know what to do.

  • I met this french woman from Orleans in Costa Rica that i like a lot. We have being going out a couple of times but the last time we went for dinner at the end she gave me a big hug. I lived in Paris but Im confused with the meaning of this and her feelings. Merci bien.

  • I met this french woman from Orleans in Costa Rica that i like a lot. We have being going out a couple of times but the last time we went for dinner at the end she gave me a big hug. I lived in Paris but Im confused with the meaning of this and her feelings. Merci bien Géraldine.

  • I’ve felt quite comfortable with greeting French people until a man I know kissed me twice on each cheek! I’ve never been kissed by a man before (after I was 13 years’ old) so it was a surprise!

    • Hi Richard,
      yes, male (close) friends kiss each other sometimes.
      I’ve looked at my boyfriends’ friends and sometimes they kiss, sometimes shake hands…
      I understand why it was a surprise!

  • Thanks for posting this topic. About the rule number 2 , there is no rules about the number of kisses but there is a difference en fonction des villes francaises ou lon de trouve

  • I was in a situation where I shook hands with one of my French friend’s classmates, and I got a funny look because this guy was expecting I would faire le bise. I made a mental note that girls always faire le bise on introduction and guys typically shake hands.

    But what to do in the situation in which I met a real estate agent for an apartment visit? Well, I learned that girls don’t always have to faire le bise in such professional circumstances. In fact, the appropriate thing to do is to shake hands in that case, and that’s what my French friend told me after having a good laugh about it. The real estate agent was definitely taken for a pleasant surprise when I leaned in for the bise. I’m pretty sure I made his day.

    As for the hugging, I believe this is reserved for your significant other +/- close family (but I’m inclined to say not all families hug).

    Ciao !

    • Hi Kathryn,

      In professional situations, people always shake hands. 🙂
      Indeed, it must have surprised the real estate agent!

      You are absolutely right about the hugging. It’s for you significant other and sometimes your family.

  • I’ve had plenty of awkward “to bise or not to bise” moments, but the one where I felt the most bewildered was when I was introduced to some children – I was going down the line bise-ing the adults as I met them (the extended family of my boyfriend, no less!) and when I came to the kids, I had no idea if I should bise them or not. It had never occurred to me to inquire about how to greet seven year olds!

    • Hi CatherineRose,

      Women kiss children.

      If you were a man :
      If the child is a girl, kiss.
      If a boy, offer to shake hands “as a man”.
      (keep kiss to the youngest ones)

      Just like grown-ups. 🙂

    • Hi Jame,

      This is a looooog discussion I had with an American friend. 🙂
      To French people, hugging is considered too intimate I think.

      (Even if to other people, kissing is more intimate than hugging, it’s a matter of point of view!)

  • Thanks for posting this topic. It’s perfect for my students and very timely for my lessons! They can read this info in their texts but you make it real. Merci beaucoup!

  • Hi Geraldine,

    thank you for the video, it assured me that French people als make ‘mistakes’ when they’re greeting each other, nothing to worry about 🙂
    I was wondering if those rules you described are only among friends or also for more ‘formal’ situations like when you meet with someone who represents a ‘entreprise’ and who is coming for a negociation at the office or when you are going to the doctor for instance (I always shake hands with my doctor).

    I was a bit surprised when you said you can’t hug someone (I did, once, but I was too happy to see this person again and she was also glad to see me so I think -and hope- she didn’t mind), but I’ll keep it in mind. I think hugging is more for boyfriends/girlfriends isn’t it?

    • Hi Irene,

      For formal situations, always shake hands.

      Close friends would be surprised but ok with hugging. 🙂
      Hugging is for you significant other and with family member (not all families hug however).

  • Double Your Frenchness

    Crash Course

    Enroll in in my free 10-lesson course that has helped thousands like you 2x their Everyday French in 10 days!

    Share this post!

    Share on facebook
    Share on google
    Share on twitter
    Share on linkedin
    >

    Download this lesson as a PDF!

    Please enter your name and email address to get the lesson as a free PDF!