When in France, Greet with a Kiss — The North Star Reports – by Rachel Rees. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal

When in France, Greet with a Kiss — The North Star Reports – by Rachel Rees. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal


In the United States, a common greeting typically consists of a “hello” and a wave. Although many Americans believe this is the only way to greet a person, not all countries have this custom. In France, a common greeting with a person you know consists of les bisous, kisses, on one’s cheek. Many Americans view this as a violation of personal space and an odd greeting, but to the French it is just as common as a wave.
When I visited France, I traveled around to different cities for one week and was assigned a host family for another week. Quite frankly, one of the things I was most nervous about was the bisous. We had learned about how to greet people in France during class, but learning is different than participating. Luckily, the bisous is the greeting used for people whom you know, so I did not have to worry about being kissed by strangers. My first experience receiving and giving les bisous was when I met my host family. For those of you interested in experiencing France, it was not as bad as I thought it would be– don’t let it dissuade you from visiting.

Americans may find les bisous a violation of personal space, which makes them view the greeting as odd and abnormal. The French and American cultures vary in the way personal space is thought of and used. The French do not have the “bubble rule” and are much more intimate, close in proximity, with one another. From an outside perspective, culturally, it is easy to get caught up in how odd this difference is because of its unfamiliarity. This may lead many to believe les bisous is an inappropriate greeting and that their own greeting is the correct one. If you stand back and look at the differences in greetings, there is no right or wrong way. The differences in culture play a large role in the specific greetings of cultures. In my experience, Americans in particular have trouble seeing cultural differences as equal, a prime example of sociocentrism. Simply put, Americans have a tendency to think their way is superior to those of other cultures when it comes to differences such as greetings.

Whether it be acknowledging a person with wave or with a kiss, a greeting is a greeting. Although other cultures’ greetings may seem abnormal, one must always look at the cultural differences and realize there is no right or wrong way to greet a person. Each culture is unique, which makes traveling such a great tool for learning.

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The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, The College of St. Scholastica and the scholarly Middle Ground Journal’s online learning community and outreach program with undergraduate and K-12 classes around the world. The North Star Reports has flourished since 2012. For a brief summary, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:


The North Star Reports publishes edited essays from our students, particularly from those who are currently stationed, or will soon be stationed abroad. Students have reported from Mongolia, Southern China, Shanghai, northeastern China, The Netherlands, Tanzania, Ireland, England, Finland, Russia, and Haiti. We also have students developing reviews of books, documentaries, and films, and analysis of current events from around the world. We will post their dispatches, and report on their interactions with the North Star Reports students and teachers. We thank The Department of History and Politics and the School of Arts and Letters of The College of St. Scholastica for their generous financial support for The North Star Reports and The Middle Ground Journal.

Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief, The North Star Reports; Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal; Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, MN, USA

(c) 2012-present The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy http://NorthStarReports.org The NSR is sponsored by The Middle Ground Journal and The College of St. Scholastica. See Masthead for our not-for-profit educational open- access policy. K-12 teachers, if you are using these reports for your classes, please contact editor-in-chief Professor Liang at HLIANG (at) css.edu


Filed under North Star Student Editors, Professor Hong-Ming Liang

24 responses to “When in France, Greet with a Kiss — The North Star Reports – by Rachel Rees. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal

    • Katy Goerke

      I totally failed my first bisous impression, the I had never met the girl before and she may not have known that I was an american, let alone that social awkwardness is a talent of mine. Though in my travels abroad I did learn about lots of other cultures, I have yet to find a culture where shanking people is the right and proper greeting, so I think its safe to assume that there are some wrong ways to greet people. Anyway, congratulations on mastering the right French greeting as it is not easy!

  1. Benjamin Carlson

    The many ways we great each other is very fascinating. The way we great elders, friend, and even new acquaintances differ greatly in some families. Ranging from an awkward wave to a loving warm embrace, it’s not just distance or a change in nationality that alters how we behave, but your everything from family traditions to external experiences that can have an effect. Thank you for sharing!!

  2. Mackenzie Sherrill

    I really enjoyed this article! I bet it took a good amount of courage traveling to France having known that their greetings were very different from the ones we have in the U.S. I also thought it was interesting how they don’t mind closeness to others; I wonder how a claustrophobic individual would do there.

  3. Samantha Roettger

    I knew of this greeting before I went to France which made the first time seeing the kisses less weird than it could have been not knowing of this greeting. I saw this greeting everywhere around France and also Italy. I think kissing on the cheeks is more personal and caring than our greetings in America. I would love to learn about other forms of greetings around teh globe.

  4. Karn Pederstuen

    This was a really interesting article! In French class, we also practiced this French greeting and I will admit that it felt a bit strange to me. However, you made an excellent point in saying that although there are many different ways to greet people, one way is not better or more right than another.

  5. David Miller

    I have never herd of this form of greeting before reading this. I always thought of France greeting with a kiss on each cheek, but i was very wrong. I have even herd that a “Minnesotan” greeting is saying hi how are you but not waiting for a response and vice versa when asked. I think that the kissing on the neck is much more personal and really shows you are happy/grateful to see that person.

  6. Becca Smith

    I liked what you said about how learning about something was different than actually having to participate in it. This type of greeting is very unfamiliar to me and it’s hard to imagine greeting someone this way. I definitely am fond of my personal space, even with close family and friends, and would also be concerned about the germs being passed. However, I think different greeting practices around the world would be very interesting to observe.

  7. Carley Henning

    I really liked how you said no greeting in the right greeting. I would also agree that Americans think their way to greet people is superior to any other because our greeting is so simple. I think if you are visiting another country, you should respect how they greet people and learn to accept that’s how their culture is. After that, you may change how you behave toward different customs

  8. Daniela Rojas

    I remember my first weeks here in Duluth I would constantly have to remind myself that people only greet each other with a wave or a simple hello. It was hard understanding about the personal bubble, and that things that are common for me are not common here. It was nice reading how you had to experience a different type of greeting and that you were able to embrace it.

  9. Zach Friederichs

    The manner in which different cultures greet each other would be such an interesting topic to look into. I often wonder where these variations came from and how they have changed over time. Why do the French tend to greet with a kiss whereas Americans prefer a simple handshake? Maybe it has to do with trust and security?

  10. Camila Garcia

    Something similar happened to me! In my country is normal to also greet people with one kiss on the cheek. I thought that this was “normal” when I came to US. The first time I came with my parents and met my roommates I just shook my hand to the first one because I have read before about Americans and “their bubble”. But then my mom got so mad at me, and told me that I was disrespectful. So for the second roommate I gave her the kiss on the cheek. It was very awkward is all I have to say. Is always very interesting to see how different cultures differs in little things like greeting.

  11. Chelsey L

    Very nice article! Sometimes i think Americans greet in a weird way. It cool to hear about how one countries can have different greeting and its not awkward. I feel France has sense of care behind a greeting. I wonder sometimes what other countries greeting are like? I like how you wrote the article.

  12. Ryan Lyzhoft

    I really enjoyed this article and the experience you shared. In my family and society class we were talking about how different cultures value certain things like eye contact and personal contact. Some cultures believe that it is disrespectful to use eye contact when talking to an elder and I just think that its important to read up on these difference and be cognizant about this differences so you don’t offend someone.

  13. Kendra Johnson

    I’ve never really thought about how different greetings were until I read this article. I’ve only ever done a hand shake or wave but that’s because that’s what I’m used to and know. Many cultures have different practices and beliefs and I believe that’s what helps to form things like these. You have very interesting insights and ideas about that. Thanks for sharing!

  14. Kaitlyn Young

    I’ve never visited France, but the kiss-as-a-greeting thing definitely freaks me out a bit. It’s good to know that other people are worried about this. I think you made a good point about how we find customs that aren’t ours strange. We don’t like things that are different from the ways that we do things. Great job.

  15. Alex Cole

    It’s amazing how culturally different our wold is when it is as globalised as it is today. You would think we would have more universal ways of saying hello and goodbye.

  16. Evangelista Chicheko

    Reading this article reminded me of my first day in the US. One of my very first friends I met greeted me with a kiss and this was unusual for me because we do not do that back home. I did not want to sound rude by asking her why she did that but as our friendship grew, I later asked her why. She explained to me that was their way of greeting people and I am grateful for that because I have learned to appreciate people’s cultures and know that we all come from different backgrounds with unique traditions and practices.

  17. Thank you for sharing! It is really cool that you got the chance to goto France! I believe that it only matters on who you are greeting, the way you greet them could be different then the next. I always give my mother a hug when I see her. Thanks!

  18. I wonder what causes different cultures to have such different levels of personal space. I’d imagine there are some complicated academic articles out there that can trace boundaries and other traditions back aways. Nonetheless, the question of “Where did it come from?” still intrigues me.

  19. Bao Vang

    I loved your article! It was very interesting. In my culture, all the males must greet each other with a hand shake and if you don’t it, it is considered very rude. So when my dad goes to a family gathering he must go and shake hand with every male at the gathering. And if my dad doesn’t know someone, then he’ll have to introduce himself before he shakes the person’s hand. It’s very unique to see how different cultures throughout the world greet one another. Thank you for sharing!

  20. Hannah Kunde

    First off, thank you for sharing! I think it is very interesting all of the different interactions people can have in a simple as a greeting. “In France, a common greeting with a person you know consists of les bisous, kisses, on one’s cheek. Many Americans view this as a violation of personal space and an odd greeting, but to the French it is just as common as a wave.” Depending on the culture, there variety of ways of communication that would seem foreign from one another. For instance, a thumbs up in the United States would be viewed as something good, while others may think this as vulgar statement. Thank you again for sharing your experiences!

  21. Greeting with a kiss… That reminded me of something in my family. Generally speaking, in Zimbabwe, my family at least, it is a very thing to see parents kiss their children. But because my little sister liked watching western films starting at a very young age, at times, she would sneak on my dad and kiss him, then run away. That really troubled my dad and he would always wonder were she learnt that from. hahaha

  22. Matt Breeze

    You make an excellent point that no greeting should be looked upon as superior to another. The cheek kissing would be hard to get use to as an American, at least at first, but the idea behind it is fascinating and has its own history and cultural setting. The way Americans seem to be less willing to acknowledge the equality of other cultural phenomenon as you suggest is also interesting. Americans should in general try to be more understanding of other people and culture because there is not one right answer for the whole world even with something as simple as how to greet other people.

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