American in Paris French Romantic

Kissing in French

Aaaah, the French kiss… This post was inspired by a question from a friend of mine who was asking about the differences between the French words used to say “kiss”. I thought it would be appropriate to help define them here for my readers as there are several words and their meanings or connotations are not all exactly the same.

Le Baiser by Auguste Toulmouche

There are a few nouns in French for the word kiss :

Un baiser : is the word for what we would call a kiss on the lips. Something you would give to your lover, husband, wife, partner… someone you love and for whom you feel passionately. The tongue may or may not be implicated. It should also be noted that, there is no specific noun to describe what Americans refer to as the French Kiss… which is merely a baiser where the tongue is definitely implicated.

Un bisou : can also be a kiss on the lips, but it is, let’s say, less involved than a baiser. A bisou can also be placed on the cheek if you will. Children often offer many bisous to the mother and father or aunt, for example. A bisou is sweet and cute. You can give a bisou to a kid who has a booboo.

La bise : is a kiss on the cheek, where really the lips never touch the skin, it’s merely a touch of the two cheeks and a kissing sound made by both parties. This is the typical French greeting for someone you know (and like). Usually it consists of 2 bises, one for each cheek (in Paris), right cheek, left cheek, when in Provence most people greet with 3 or 4 bises, right, left, right, left… Then there is also the bise of the wind, which is stinging and chilly on the cheeks and usually happens in Winter. It is not as nice as a bise from your best pal, but it does make your cheeks rosy!

Mind you though, le baiser COULD be placed elsewhere than on the lips, it just depends on the intensity behind the gesture. A baiser on the cheek and a bisou on the cheek are two completely different kisses! And you could quite honestly greet someone with a baiser, it just depends on how well you know them; know what I mean!?!

La jeune mère, by Rodin (Or as I call it, “le bisou”)

There are a few different ways to describe the act of kissing, in French, with different nouns, but beware of the context as it has changed over time.

Faire la bise, means : to greet someone with a bise or two (or three or four).

Donner un bisou : means to give a bisous. You canhand them out like candy amongst your friends. 🙂

Now the action word used for un baiser, has had a slight change in connotation over the past several decades : Baiser, means to kiss (as in the on-the-lips kiss) but it’s connotation has met with some cultural restructuring and now means something a bit more vulgar. I think it’s better to avoid confusion and stick to using the noun baiser, for example : Donner un baiser : to give a (on-the-lips) kiss.

Michelle & Sarkozy went for the French custom, Carla and Obama went for a polite handshake.

So then what is this word Embrasser and where does it fit in?

Embrasser literally means to hug. But it is often used to describe giving a bise to someone you care about. I like to think of it as a hug and a kiss on the cheek all at once. It means you really appreciate that person!
It is most commonly seen at the end of a letter or email, or is spoken over the phone : “Je t’embrasse” : “I hug/kiss you”, at the end of a conversation.
If someone offers you a gift, you embrasse them when expressing your gratitude.
As someone is leaving for a trip, you embrasse them as you say goodbye.
It seems to be a punctuating gesture.

So now dear readers, je vous embrasse and I hope you enjoyed this post!



  1. Good good good overview of the many ways to kiss! Expats fresh off the boat (or plane, as it were) invariably get their brains in a knot when they realize how varied the interpretations are!

  2. Great post Melissa, I’m just a bit disappointed you pruded out slightly on the verb ‘baiser’, but at least you mentioned it. And then again, that subject could be the topic of a whole other post! The French know how to do that to, of course…

    1. Sab, as always, thank you for your encouragement! 😉 I am not sure I am capable of writing a whole post on the verb “baiser”…. that’s might be a little too osé for my taste. I will leave that to you!

  3. Love it! I love the definitions and the fact that the French have so many nouns and verbs for this beautiful thing, the kiss. I also love that first painting, which I’ve never seen and that brilliant photo of Michelle’s pucker! Bis!

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