Oh là là. Covid may no longer be the first thought that enters our head when we head out for a night, or a day, on the town, but it hasn’t gone away and France still totters on the edge of a kissing katastrophe. The age old French tradition of ‘la bise’ and the ‘poignée de main’ (handshake) continue to hang in the balance;  French health agencies still advise the nation to ‘saluer sans serrer la main et arrêter les embrassades’ 

And yet, it’s second nature for the French to greet and take leave of family, friends, colleagues and even complete strangers with cheek-y kisses. They grow up with it. It’s as natural as breathing, as normal as carrying a baguette home on a bicyclette – and a hard habit to break.

It seems that la bise goes way back to the Romans who greeted each another with ‘basium‘ in the same way that the French font ‘la bise‘.

Over the centuries, the greeting has had a bit of a bumpy ride. The Black Death in the 14th century killed it off completely, along with an estimated 40% of Europe. It struggled to revive over the next centuries, but was pretty much snuffed out again with the spread of prudish Victorian values around Europe, and didn’t really make much of a comeback until after the First World War.

Surprisingly, it was the bourgeoisie who most objected to la bise, believing it to be common, an opinion which lasted well into the mid-20th century.

It wasn’t really until after the student revolt in 1968 that les Français of all ages and social backgrounds started kissing on the cheek again.


So what are the alternatives and will they be a temporary replacement or remodel the good old French kiss permanently?


le footshake – first one foot bump, then the other




le elbow bump – le bonjour avec les coudes – (but bear in mind that they might just have sneezed into their elbow following government advice!)



le salut vulcain de Star Trek – vulcan salute with raised hand and fingers parted in middle, accompanying the words ‘Longue vie et prospérité’!



Namasté – slight bow, hands pressed together, palms touching, fingers pointing upwards, thumbs close to the chest.



‘ello – The good old British ‘hi’ from a distance!




Air kiss from a distance and blowing a kiss




In Roman times, there were 3 different words for three very different kinds of kisses

The osculum – a closed mouth kiss on the cheek, hand or lips, between people of the same rank.

The suavium – erotic, tongue-in-mouth and said to be mainly used with “femmes de joies”, known to day as the French Kiss.

The basium – a tender kiss to show affection between family and friends



What French speakers say about kissing and Covid

Christine Personnellement je suis un peu génée de ne pas pouvoir saluer les gens que je rencontre. On a l’impression d’être mal élevé. Par contre en ce qui concerne ma famille, enfants petits enfants, nous continuons à nous biser tant que nous sommes pas en contact avec des personnes infectées.

Maryline Nous ne craignons plus du tout d’être contaminés, et nous n’avons jamais eu cette crainte. Nous avons une bonne hygiène de vie et refusons de porter le masque.

Jacqueline Au début du confinement j’ai cru que les salutations en France deviendraient comme en Angleterre, mais maintenant je ne sais plus. Ca me manque, de faire la bise à ma famille en France, mais j’ai de la famille aussi en Angleterre et là, rien n’a changé.

Michèle Ca complique bien la vie de pas mal de monde! Par contre, nous qui sommes retraités n’avons pas à nous plaindre par rapport aux actifs et tous ceux qui vont se retrouver sans travail ! Pour ce qui est de la poignée de main et des bises il me semble qu’un beau sourire et un bonjour sont tout aussi bien et que nous ne manquons pas de politesse en faisant ainsi ( je n’ ai jamais été partisane des bises le matin en arrivant au travail et en en repartant et à tout bout de champs! d’autant plus en hiver quand plus ou moins ça tousse de tout les côtés….) Par contre il est certain que le fait de ne plus se rencontrer les uns les autres est triste . Mais si cela doit porter ses fruits alors jouons le jeu. Et heureusement nous avons Skype!

Valerie Le manque de contact avec les proches et les personnes qu’on aime nous donne l’impression qu’il manque quelque chose, on a besoin de se serrer dans les bras et on ne peut plus. J’espère qu’on re pourra un jour. Pour les autres personnes ça ne me manque pas, même je trouve que c’est mieux et plus hygiénique.

Useful vocab


….And English Speakers

Catherine So happy to live without it! We moved to France 13 years ago as the culmination of a long love affair with the country, the climate, the food and even the people. The move has fulfilled all our hopes and dreams. We’ve even got used to dealing with the mysteries of French banks, the mountains of bureaucratic papers….. but the one thing that still made me flinch was la bise. I accept that this shows up my inhibitions but it felt too close and too intimate kissing virtual strangers. I really tried but I know my body language was a give away sometimes. Cuddling grandchildren is another matter and I will welcome that back. I also miss shaking hands and will be happy to return to that but displaying a terribly British sense of personal space, I will wave goodbye to la bise very happily.

Barbara I just love giving the bises, mainly to people I know and like a lot. Not touching them is really hard. I have replaced it with a little Japanese bow holding my two palms together but it’s just not the same! On the other hand, I remember my wedding day up in Brittany where 4 bises is the norm. It was the tradition for the guests (160 at mine!) to queue up and give the bride the bises. That made 640 bises in a row….. a bit too much!

Roman Emperor Claudius II wasn’t against a bit of love, but actual marriage was forbidden in his army, as he believed that married men did not make good soldiers. Along came Saint Valentine, patron saint of lovers, but also of bee keepers, plague victims and epilepsy sufferers! (It’s a hard job but somebody has to do it!) Anyway, according to legend, our Val, worried that soldiers would nevertheless abuse their Christianity by indulging in the sin of extra marital nooky, performed secret wedding ceremonies to encourage them to remain faithful Christians. Caught out by Claudius, he was imprisoned and later beheaded for his sins on February 14, 270 AD. Whilst his skull, crowned with flowers, is on display in Rome, other bits of him can be visited at Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin, Ireland, a popular pilgrimage to this day for those looking for love!

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