Wednesday, April 17, 2013

France: Kiss or Shake Hands?

Skyline of La Défense business district in Paris
Photo by Rosss
Today's guest post is from Géraldine Lepere, the creator of Comme une Française, a web site aimed primarily at expat women who are new in France, but nonetheless is chock full of interesting tips. Today, she writes about whether or not you should kiss or shake hands in the office.

For those not familiar with this, it can sound strange and it's very much something I wish I had known when I first moved to France. Unlike in many other countries where there is very much a "hands off" attitude at work and a morning greeting is often a perfunctory nod, the French often walk into the office and walk 'round shaking everyone's hands. It feels normal to me now, but it took me a while to get used to it.

Later, when one of our colleagues flew in from Corsica, he went and kissed most of the other colleagues (yes, even the men), and shook my hand instead of kissing me. Géraldine's excellent post will help you understand why.

French at the office Part 1: Kiss or shake hands?

You’ve got a job in France. A visa. And a dream come true. You’re going to live AND work in Paris. Congratulations!

The day before you start, THE big question strikes you: « Will you kiss or shake hands with your colleagues? ». Let’s be honest, you already struggle to use « vous » and « tu » with your neighbours. What about strangers at work?

In this post, you’ll find quick and easy answers to save you from office nightmares.

5 golden rules about kissing or shaking hands

In case you panic, here are 5 rules of French society. At work, French colleagues usually shake hands. But if you work in a non-formal office, the « shake hands / use vous / wear a tie » will not apply.

Rule #1: You will never break any cultural code by shaking hands. So if you have no idea what to do: shake hands!

Rule #2: Whatever people tell you, there is NO rule about the number of kisses.

Rule #3: Check what others do and do the same. Being a foreigner or a newbie in the group has no influence over the way you greet the members of the group.

Rule #4: Stop feeling embarrassed when you go for handshake and the person wants to kiss you. Smile, kiss, go on. It happens to French all the time. To me at least once a week. This is NOT personal.

Rule #5: NEVER hug a French. (I had an expat girl come to me once with a big smile and this phrase “You just saved my life by telling me this!”)

Sometimes, you shake hands and kiss later.

When you’ve reached a certain level of proximity with your colleagues (you often go out for drinks together), you will drop a layer of formality. And go from “Oh my god I have to behave well and show respect” to “I like this person, we are now on a friendship level”.

This applies to many relations, especially:

- The teacher at the end of the year: you used to have a student-teacher relationship, which is now “over” as you have your degree. He is proud of you and happy of your success. He will kiss you at your graduation day. It can also drop to “tu” after some time if you keep in touch and the age difference is under 20 years.

- The boss at the end of your contract: you used to have a boss-employee relationship, which is now “over” as you are retiring or leaving (not fired or resigning!). He was happy to work with you. And greets you with a kiss on both cheeks.

- The in-laws at the end of your first meeting: both of you are very stressed and formal. After the first meeting check, you are nice and friendly, and perfect for their son. They will kiss you when you go.

- Friends of friends at the end of a party: you didn’t know each other at the beginning, got on very well, and at the end of the party, you are on a more relaxed level. This can surprisingly apply to very formal situations sometimes.

Remember that even French people don’t always know when to go from shaking hands to kissing. You are not alone!

Kissing: don’t make this classic expat mistake

Oh and by the way, a greeting kiss in French is « une bise ». But kissing is NOT « baiser » (VERY rude word meaning « to f**k »), it’s « faire la bise ».

Many expats use this rude words without even suspecting its true meaning!

These tips will save you a LOT of time during your integration at your new French office.

Bonne journée !
(Have a good day)


Géraldine is the founder of Comme une Française
The website helps expat women to quickly and easily integrate in France. Her videoblog has helped thousands of expats master unwritten French society rules and speak real life French. 
Subscribe to receive her free weekly tips. It’s free!

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