Guide to the French kiss: how to kiss a Frenchman
About ten years ago my wife and I began living three months a year in Provence. We had previously lived in Switzerland but we quickly learned that France is quite a bit different! This story is from our second stay in France, in a small town near Aix-en-Provence.
We invited Viviane and Gérard over for lunch one Saturday.
The French kiss and international kissing etiquette: the rules
People kiss each other all the time in France, as they do in Switzerland, but the rules can vary and we were never sure which set was in play.
The Swiss, as you would expect, are very orderly. Three kisses on the cheeks, left-right-left, no exceptions. People shake hands when they are first introduced but move to kisses as they get to know each other. Women kiss women, women kiss men and men kiss women. Men exchange firm and manly handshakes.
There are clear rules that keep everyone organized. They were probably printed in our village handbook when we lived in Switzerland, right next to the phone numbers for the fire department and the fondue delivery service.
A French kiss: complicated? Confusing? Dangerous? Perhaps!
In France, it gets more complicated and it varies by region.
In Paris, it is two kisses. The Parisians also start with the right cheek rather than the left and men don’t kiss each other. Parisian men carry man purses, sure, but kissing each other would be a bit much.
When we had stayed in Provence the year before we had started to get into the kissing program. We had discovered that it was three kisses like in Switzerland but the cheek sequence was right-left-right rather than left-right-left.
It is very important to keep this straight.
One of our Swiss friends once had an awkward moment with a French woman. He went left, she went right, and he ended up kissing her on the lips. Quite the international incident.
French kiss and the Provençal protocol
The other thing about Provence is that men kiss each other. Not all men, but men who are good friends – “potes.” The year before, our landlord Pascal gave me the full three-kiss treatment when we left at the end of our stay.
I thought it was a warm and friendly gesture but maybe he was just glad to be rid of me.
Here, not far from where we had stayed the year before, it was two kisses rather than three. How were we supposed to know this? Was there a border we had crossed but somehow missed the sign? (“Welcome to Eastern Provence. Please Follow the LocalKissing Regulations. And Enjoy Your Lunch, Especially the Asparagus, Which is Delicious Right Now.”)
If you gave three kisses when it should be two, would people think you were rather pushy and forward?
If you only gave two kisses instead of three, would you be considered standoffish?
One thing that was consistent across Provence was that men kissed each other. So when Gérard kissed me I wasn’t shocked. But I was worried that I might mix up the left-right sequence like my Swiss friend and give him a real kiss.
Good thing that didn’t happen because Gérard really loved his garlic!
Have you had any awkward French kiss encounters? We have! Tell us all about it in the comments!
- Moustache Man by Sharyn Morrow via flickr
- Handshake by dhendrix73 via flickr
- Faire la bise flickr by SImon Blackley via flickr
- Asparagus by Jonathan Moreau via flickr
NOTE: This popular article has been refreshed and republished in 2021