Whether it is President Emmanuel Macron welcoming German Chancellor Angela Merkel to a high-profile state meeting or a regular Frenchwoman greeting her friend at a bar, their gesture is fundamentally the same.
They pout their mouths, lean in, smacking their lips in a kissing sound as their cheeks touch gently together.
La bise – ‘the kiss’ – is a firmly embedded social custom, in France.
For foreigners it can seem odd to kiss as a 'hello', but to the French it is such a basic social code that has existed for so long that people tend to do it automatically, without thinking.
Still, far from all French people are a fan of the tradition.
“One of the upsides to this epidemic is the end of la bise,” a woman named Cécile wrote on Twitter.
“I hate this “custom” and (that) as soon as I step back to avoid drooling, unasked for mouths on my cheek, people got upset.”
Un des bons côtés de cette épidémie c'est la fin de la bise. Je hais cette “coutume” et dès que je reculais pour éviter la bouche baveuse sur ma joue qui n'avait rien demandé, les gens étaient vexés.
— Cécile diz (@cecile_diz) May 16, 2020
Same, same… And I finally will not have to kiss people I don’t like much to tell them hello and goodbye just because “we have to do it” (you know, “la bise”) *phew* pic.twitter.com/9q4FhPterk
— ✒ Marina ? ? Sortez couverts (@Marina__vo) May 20, 2020
Good riddance! RIP la bise.
— Elodie Peony (@ElodiePeony) May 26, 2020
In early March, Health Minister Olivier Véran told the French to try and find new, less contagious means of saying hello.
This was back when bars and restaurants were still open across France, before mounting critical cases in hospitals forced the government to install a strict, nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of the epidemic.
Back then, banning la bise became somewhat of a national joke. Pundits poked fun at politicians who claimed they would miss giving out kisses to people in their communities. French media flourished with articles asking “what now?” “Do we fist-bump instead?”
Eight weeks of lockdown and a deep economic downturn later, the joke isn’t that funny anymore. But the question of whether France will have to kiss la bise goodbye is more pressing than ever.
To Célestin-Alexis Agbessi, a doctor at the emergency unit of the Parisian hospital Pitié-Salpêtrière, there is no question about it – the French will have to stop kissing.
“Absolutely,” he told The Local.
“We will need to innovate, change, create. There will be new ways to socialise,” he said.
“The world has shifted, radically shifted. I'm not sure we've realised it yet.”
“When kids in 2040 will ask me what is faire la bise,” wrote woman as a caption to a video of a girl mouthing the lyrics to the part of La Boheme where famous French singer Charles Aznavour sings “I am talking to you about a time that those of you under 20 years old you cannot know.”
When kids in 2040 will ask me what is faire la bise pic.twitter.com/E8RSyqPs38
— Vamana ?️? (@Cirasuolo_A) May 24, 2020
'You get used to it'
Many French are nostalgic about the thought of letting la bise go.
“La bise is a cultural question here in France. It shows our affection to one another,” said Paul, 20.
Paul said he did not foresee a future without la bise.
“Once we have a vaccine, why shouldn't we? We have had the flu here since forever and that didn’t stop us from doing la bise.”
Eva, a Polish woman who has lived in France for 17 years, said she would miss doing la bise, but only with certain people.
“It's a good tradition,” she said.
“In the beginning I found it odd, but then you get used to it.”
As for Lisa, she was certain. She had never wanted to do la bise in the first place, now she definitely never had to.
“I think a sincere smile is much better than a forced bise,” she said.