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I'm a French programmer, I was born in France and have lived here my entire life, kissing friends and family on the cheek on a daily basis without any trouble.

In most French companies, there is an unspoken rule that men shake hands with other men and everyone kisses on the cheek with women.

I really don't like that tradition as it seems to me that everyone should be shaking hands in a company; kissing only women and not men feels like sexualizing or treating women as children.

The trouble here is that, as it's an unspoken rule or tradition, people think that it's really weird for me to shake hands with women at work, and some women seem to find this rude or take it personally.

How can I try to go against such a tradition without being rude? Is there a professional way to do so?

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    You may want to edit some of your comment responses into the question. You really shouldn't have to as it's well-written as is but since this is on HNQ you're going to get people repeating comments probably. – Lilienthal Jul 21 '17 at 22:12
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    This conversation about habits around the world, French norms outside the workplace, and related topics has been moved to chat. Please continue the discussion there, not here. Remember that moderators do not have a tool to move additional comments to the chat room, so comments that aren't aimed at improving the question but are more discussion are likely to be deleted. – Monica Cellio Jul 23 '17 at 21:08
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I'm French so I can answer really easily.

If you are in a big company it's really common to shake hands with women until you know them better.

If you are in a smaller firm, usually the culture of the company is more friendly and you should kiss on the cheek with women.

So for your questions just give them your hand when a woman sees you. And if she really wants to kiss your cheek and said something like "C'est bon, ici, on se fait la bise" (It's okay, we do "la bise" here.) just accept it.

The problem here, it's the way to do it in France. It's not company culture but French culture. But it's not "sexualizing or considering women as child" to "faire la bise" it's more a sign of friendship ; http://www.francesoir.fr/lifestyle-vie-quotidienne/pourquoi-se-fait-la-bise (sorry link in french but it's more accurate).

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    Let us continue this discussion in chat. – sh5164 Jul 21 '17 at 8:01
  • Not sure why this was so heavily upvoted since it really doesn't address the actual question. Sure, the most professional thing is to just accept it as part of the culture and go along with it. But that's not what the OP asked. – Lilienthal Jul 21 '17 at 22:08
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    You're a smart guy, you can read between the lines that he didn't write. He's saying you can't (without being rude). – Chris E Jul 22 '17 at 0:31
  • @Lilienthal, he addressed exactly the question being asked. What more could you possibly want out of an answer? – teego1967 Jul 22 '17 at 1:50
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    @jpmc26 I think that in context "C'est bon" means something like, "Don't worry" or "It has already been decided"; and "on se fait la bise" means "people kiss each other on the cheek". – ChrisW Jul 22 '17 at 8:01
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You know how it goes. "When in Rome, do as the Romans do". If it isn't that huge an issue for you, the most professional thing would be to greet them, the same way they initiated the greeting.

some women seem to find this rude or take it personally.

That sentiment to me appears normal at least as a first reaction. Imagine you go for a handshake and the other person suddenly pulls back and awkwardly stares at you. (Exaggeration, I know, but I imagine it happening somewhat like that). It seems perfectly normal to find it rude. BUT if afterwards you properly explain that you find it uncomfortable and in no way does it imply a problem with them in particular, they should be understanding of that, otherwise it's going to be their fault. I can't guarantee you, though, that you will make the best impresssion to your co-workers. Probably it will be fine and nobody will mind much. At worst you are "that weird guy who only likes handshakes." It really depends on the people you work with.

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    You underestimate the level of "alienness" that can be created by not following the local customs observed as proper conduct. Like this. Just be polite, please, regardless of your own prejudices. "They should be understanding of that, otherwise it's going to be their fault." No, it will be yours. If you don't care about being rejected for bad manners, then you can violate customs all over the place. But don't blame the people who have the customs for rejecting you. – Wildcard Jul 21 '17 at 22:13
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TL;DR : Greet them gently with a nice word and a smile (and a hand-shake if you feel like it will be welcome/appreciated...)


Not to argue whether the country or company culture is annoying or not, or should be followed or not, I believe that we shall focus on OP question : "It's more of a country tradition I'm against" and "How can I try to go against such a tradition without being rude?".


If you are known by your colleagues as being a foreigner, there's nothing rude at explaining your point of vue (ie: in my country, we have laws saying... / it's considered rude to... / I'm used to shake hands all the time...).

EDIT : in comments, OP says he's French. I don't think it makes any difference for my answer though.

If you don't want to say anything about that, just act as you want to, they'll get used to it after a couple of days. Just shake hands to everyone. My advice: in order not to be bothered, make the first move, friendly. Add a gentle smile to your hand moving towards them :)

Nowadays, lots of women like to avoid the cheeks kiss, as, as you said, men and women should be treated the same way, in a professional manner (*).

I worked with women. Some of them were happy to come to you and kiss, some would come and shake hands. Fine. Some would just say 'Hi', as their culture forbids touching a man. Fine.

When it comes to shake hands, I usually do that with a tiny move of my head, slightly like bending. Many cultures do that too. It shows respect without being "too much".

Respect is the key, either way. Be nice, friendly if needed, respect them, they'll do the same.


(*) as many related material found was written in french, I link to a BBC news thats targets workplace kissing. It's about Germany, but was widely spread in french newspapers as well, as the same problem arose all around forums of all kinds. YES, in France, women are more and more annoyed with men pecking on their cheeks.

I don't know if it's worth mentioning it, but my other half is French and definately hates this "tradition". As well as being called "Mademoiselle" instead of "Madame" just because she is not married and just around her 30's. All men behaviors like these are even openly debated, some are even regulated by laws about equity : titles, salary and so on...

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    Please, avoid the "EDIT" all over the place; anyone who wishes to see the history of the answer can click on the "edited X times ago" link at the bottom. Instead, write an answer which reads well from top to bottom, with logical paragraphs etc... at the moment all those "EDIT #x-x" are just distracting. – Matthieu M. Jul 21 '17 at 13:41
  • didn't think it could be... better like this ? – OldPadawan Jul 21 '17 at 13:50
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    Reads much more smoothly, thank you! As for me (a French), I've worked with many foreigner women, and I've just found it best to let them indicate whether they prefer handshakes or cheeks touching. I just get relatively close to them, smile, and then follow their lead: some will close the distance and touch cheeks, some will offer their hands, others just smile and nod. All fine by me :) – Matthieu M. Jul 21 '17 at 15:37
  • That's the way I see it too ^^ – OldPadawan Jul 21 '17 at 15:45
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Since you're French and aren't opposed to the kiss on the cheek, start giving the men a kiss on the cheek too. Since that's common in France, it won't shock or offend anyone.

This way you're treating everyone the same instead of "discriminating" against anyone, you've simply changed the type of greeting you're giving to everyone.

  • Well it is not common to kiss on the cheek men you don't know. Yeah that's strange, but that's a cultural thing. Most people do it with friends, but most likely not with colleagues. By the way just to be perfectly clear most of the time this is not a real kiss. Merely cheeks touching (not lips). – Kaël Jul 21 '17 at 15:30
  • @Kaël I understand that it's not a real kiss. I've seen it where people don't appear to actually touch - they just lean in. My point is that this would allow an alternate, yet consistent behavior with both genders. Also, my impression was not that these were people the OP was meeting for the first time, but I may have misunderstood. – FreeMan Jul 21 '17 at 15:36
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    be it for the first time or not, if your not close to such people, you're not expected to kiss men on the cheeks in France. That's what I meant, doing so express how close you are to that person somehow. And in the workplace, it's not often that some of your coworker will be a good friend, good enough to greet him this way. – Kaël Jul 21 '17 at 15:45
  • I don't know about you guys, but when someone talks about treating the genders equally, I like the idea of not forgetting that we can treat them all equally in the feminine direction. Otherwise, are we really being equal, or just whitewashing? – Cort Ammon Jul 22 '17 at 1:51
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How can I try to go against such a tradition without being rude? Is there a professional way to do so?

If you do not feel comfortable with that, just say so (without being an arse, of course). You are not the only French person who does not like the "tradition", starting with more than a few females. Same goes for the whole hand shaking ritual, which can be dispensed with just by being charming and polite in other ways.

Nobody will judge you in one way or another just for that. Assuming that you are a likeable enough sort of chap(ess) who is respectful, helps others, and plays with the team, none cares.

I never kiss colleagues at work unless I know them well and it's a special occasion such as a birthday, marriage, or whatever. On the other hand, if I am kissed, something which was particularly prevalent with male colleagues in Italy, that is my turn to respect others' wishes and accept it as the show of respect and cordiality that it is.

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it seems to me that everyone should be shaking hands in a company

My experience is plutôt of singing in a choir rather than working in a company.

It seems to me that everyone should be singing, but I've grown used to the fact that there's a few minutes to begin with of everyone coming in and saying hello and kissing each other and chatting.

Kissing on the cheek feels like sexualizing or considering women as child

I don't think so. If someone (man, woman, or child) kisses me on the cheek I don't assume it's sexualizing nor treating me as a child. Women kiss each other on the cheek, and so on (though the French men often shake hands). It's more-or-less the equivalent of saying tu rather than vous.

How can I try to go against such a tradition without being rude? Is there a professional way to do so?

That said, the same people who kiss each other are also willing to shake hands with strangers and/or foreigners. Just stand back and proffer your hand for a hand-shake.

To be honest I usually do neither (just say "hello"), and let the other person decide whether to initiate a kiss or hand-shake.

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