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Getting started with French 1
Getting started with French 1

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4 To kiss or shake hands?

When meeting someone, what is the custom where you come from? Does it depend whether you know the other person or not? Imagine you have a French visitor staying with you who has been invited for a meal with some colleagues whom they’ve never met. What advice would you give them? Should they shake hands? Kiss? How many times? Does it depend on the gender or age of the person they’re meeting?

Described image
Figure 6

In France, custom requires that you shake hands when you greet people and when you leave them. This social rule is followed by men and women, young and old. If the two people are related or are very good friends, instead of shaking hands they often kiss each other on both cheeks. The number of kisses varies between regions. In Paris, for example, you would give four kisses alternating between cheeks, but in the south of France people only give two kisses, once on both cheeks. It isn’t uncommon for young people who have never met before to kiss one another, and more and more men are happy to kiss or hug on television, for example.

However, kissing isn’t a universal habit among French-speakers. For example, in the French overseas département Guadeloupe (one of the French Caribbean islands), it isn’t advisable to kiss somebody of the opposite sex in public if you’re meeting that person for the very first time, regardless of age. Similarly, French Muslims may not exchange kisses as often as other French people do.

Activity 4

Look at the photos carefully and, for each one, drag and drop the appropriate description beside the photo.

Using the following two lists, match each numbered item with the correct letter.

  1. Two young boys leave their grandparents and they all wave goodbye.

  2. Two colleagues, who may not have met before, shake hands.

  3. Two brothers kiss cheeks when meeting.

  4. Two colleagues, who know each other well, kiss cheeks when they meet.

  • a.Photo of two women standing in their workplace and kissing on the cheek. They are both dressed in a smart-casual style.

  • b.Photo of a man and woman aged 60–70 with two young boys, both waving goodbye as the boys leave the grandparents house

  • c.Photo of two young men kissing cheeks, each holding the other’s arm. They are both dressed casually, one is wearing a cream-coloured coat, the other a black coat.

  • d.Photo of two men sitting by a desk in an office and shaking hands. They are both wearing shirts without jackets in an informal work style.

The correct answers are:
  • 1 = b
  • 2 = d
  • 3 = c
  • 4 = a