French People Don’t Hug

Written by on March 17, 2015 in French Style, Guest Blogs


If you plop yourself down on a park bench in the U.S. and watch people come and go, you’ll undoubtedly see people of all ages meet and greet each other with a hug. Some are just friendly, quick hugs and others are more loving and romantic. Sometimes a hug is accompanied by a pat on the back, or swaying back and forth and sometimes there’s a lot of distance between the two people. No matter the type, you will see lots and lots of hugs because it’s a common greeting among Americans. But upon arriving in France, I learned really quickly that you don’t hug to say hi. Not even family members. How’d I learn? When I jovially put my arms around my French father-in-law who proceeded to just stand there like an animal playing dead, just waiting for his predator of a daughter-in-law to slink away. Ooops. I found out the hard way there’s no hugging in France.

Hugging in France

So I’ll say this right out of the gate. You do not greet French people with a hug (unless it’s a child). You do cheek kisses called les bises. Sometimes it’s one on each cheek and depending on your social circle and region of France, you may go for 3 or 4 bises. But whatever you do, don’t go in for the hug…

In fact, the French don’t even have a verb that means “to hug.” Well not in the same sense exactly. The closest would be to simply “take someone in your arms” or prendre dans les bras or faire un câlin but it’s kind of a romantic gesture. Like a tender hug you do with a romantic interest. Or maybe someone going through a really hard time to console them. But hugging in France is never used as a greeting.

Here’s why you don’t hug a French person (and what to do instead):

They won’t know how to do it.

Apart from what they see in the media, the French really aren’t skilled at the different types of hugging and have no clue when to use each for a greeting — but it’s not their fault! It’s not normal in French culture to hug, so if you attempt to hug a French person, they may get a little too close, too touchy-feely, might not know what to do with their hands or might just stand there waiting for you to move on to the next unsuspecting Frenchie.

It’ll make them feel really awkward or embarrassed.

French adults don’t hug to say hi. Period. Not with their friends, not with colleagues and definitely not with casual acquaintances. Because they aren’t used to hugging in France, if you go in for a teddy bear hug or even a one-armed “hey” kind of hug, they will be perplexed and probably just stand there. They’ll feel embarrassed — trust me. Or maybe they’ll reciprocate to be polite all the while thinking, “Damn this is weird.” Unless you are hugging a pervert. Which leads me to…

They might think it’s a come-on.

If you’ve recently met someone of the opposite sex and you greet them with a friendly hug, this person may think you’re trying to get close fast. As in romantically close. Maybe you are interested in this person or maybe not, but it paints the picture of you wanting to get close to them. Literally and figuratively. Hugging can be an intimate act. You press your body up against someone else, depending on the type of hug. This makes people who aren’t used to hugging quite uncomfortable. It’s the same for me when someone leans in for a bise! It’s oddly intimate at times because I’m just not used to doing this with people. I hug! (But not in France.)

What to do instead of hugging a French person

You do quick cheek kisses, or faire la bise, instead of hugging in France to greet someone. Who do you do this with? Family, friends, sometimes colleagues and casual acquaintances you see often. Usually men don’t give each other bises unless they’re family or very close.

What side do you start on? Who the heck knows. I don’t think there’s a rule but just about all the time I start with a right cheek to right cheek.

Always follow the French person’s lead. It’s their country and they’re the masters of the French greeting. If they start to turn their head and scrunch their face, they’re coming at you for a bise, or cheek kiss or two. So if they lean in for a cheek kiss, do the same. And if you wear glasses like I do, it’s customary for one of you to remove your glasses so they don’t clink. I never do this because I’m lazy.

If they start to extend their hand instead, do the same and shake their hand to say hello.

Note that once you start to faire la bise with someone, you do it every time you see them. Not just once or now and then when you feel like it. It’s obligatory!

Don’t hug. Faire la bise. And everyone will live happily ever after.

Diane Wargnier is originally from New Jersey and packed up her bags in 2012 to start a life in France with her French husband and Cavalier King Charles spaniel. A fitness enthusiast, dog obsessive, winter lover and Francophile, Diane now calls the Loire Valley home and talks about it all on her blog, Oui In France.

Tags: ,

Related Articles

The Four Queens of Provence

The Four Queens of Provence

Written by on January 14, 2019 in Guest Blogs

There have been many famous families in history. Take the Curies, for example: Marie Curie won two Nobel Prizes and her husband, daughter and grandson each won one. Quite the talented family! And then there are the Wright brothers and the Brontë sisters. And let’s not forget those comic masters, the Marx brothers. But imagine […]

Continue Reading

How not to be self sufficient in France when it comes to chickens

“They are NOT babies, they are chickens” remonstrated my French neighbour Jean-Claude. He had come to inspect the eight point of lay hens and two “babies” with which I had returned from the local street market. “I’m going to call that scrawny baby one Eaglet” I said “Non, non, non” came the emphatic response “You […]

Continue Reading

Why Beaujolais Burgundy could be the next hot spot for property seekers

Stephen Solley, an expat from the UK lives in Beaujolais, Burgundy and says, not only is it a great place to live but it also offers opportunities for would be wine-makers… There must be so many couples, frustrated by all the stresses of daily life, who in an ideal world would like to move their […]

Continue Reading

A Soap story from Marseille | Savon de Marseille

Genuine Marseille soap is made by artisans with the provenance, passion and long-standing tradition in their blood to lay claim to makers of genuine Marseilles soap. A bar that contains 72% olive oil – and once tried, you will always be loyal to its soapy concoction. History of Marseille Soap In 1688 Louis IV passed […]

Continue Reading

Take Cues From French Interior Design Trends For A Stunning French Home

Typing the hashtag #interiordesign into Instagram will yield over 14 million results, with vintage and post-modernism coming in as the top two styles for people all over the world. While not necessarily a part of either category, French style combines a little bit of everything that makes interior design so beautiful and intriguing. Whether you’ve just […]

Continue Reading


If you enjoyed this article, subscribe now to receive more just like it.

Subscribe via RSS Feed

Comments are closed.