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
    Commented Jul 21, 2017 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. Commented Jul 23, 2017 at 21:08

6 Answers 6


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
    Commented Jul 21, 2017 at 8:01
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    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
    Commented Jul 21, 2017 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
    Commented Jul 22, 2017 at 0:31
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    @Lilienthal, he addressed exactly the question being asked. What more could you possibly want out of an answer?
    – teego1967
    Commented Jul 22, 2017 at 1:50
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    If you could see your way clear to translate that sentence in your answer, I'm sure many English speakers would appreciate it. ;) Google Translate fails on it, saying it means, "It's good here, we get the bise." (I figured out that "bise" means "kiss," but the whole sentence still reads rather awkwardly in English.) @Lilienthal I consider this answer to be challenging the premise. (I've offered no upvote, though, as I know zilch about French culture.)
    – jpmc26
    Commented Jul 22, 2017 at 3:28

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
    Commented Jul 21, 2017 at 22:13

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. Commented Jul 21, 2017 at 13:41
  • didn't think it could be... better like this ?
    – OldPadawan
    Commented Jul 21, 2017 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 :) Commented Jul 21, 2017 at 15:37
  • That's the way I see it too ^^
    – OldPadawan
    Commented Jul 21, 2017 at 15:45

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
    Commented Jul 21, 2017 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
    Commented Jul 21, 2017 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
    Commented Jul 21, 2017 at 15:45
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    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
    Commented Jul 22, 2017 at 1:51

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.


In general, it would be wise that "when in Rome, do as the Romans do". I am not French, nor have I ever been to France, nor do I know anything about French culture, but if it is common in France to kiss women on the cheek in the workplace, then you should kiss your female coworkers on the cheek in the workplace.

Here's a thought: You believe that kissing your female coworkers on the cheek is "sexualizing" or "treating like children"; they may feel that you not kissing them on the cheek is "rude" or "treating them awkwardly" or "unfriendly". In this case, who is right? In my opinion, I would say that you, as a man, are projecting your biases onto your female colleagues, without their consent, and thus it is you, not them, who is engaging in "positive sexism", which is, nonetheless, sexism, by not obeying the cultural norms of your locale (which, as a Frenchman yourself, is something you are expected to know). (This is, of course, hypothetical; perhaps it is not normal to kiss your female colleagues on the cheek)

Which leads me to my actual answer. The best way to handle this would be: Presumably this is a new company that you are joining and you are interested in knowing the customs and culture of this company (if this was a company you are already at, then I would presume you know the culture and norms and this question would be irrelevant). I would presume that someone recruited you for this company and you have somebody internal with whom you are communicating vis a vis recruiting issues and so on. So I would simply ask them, after you have signed the offer letter and are preparing for your first day on the job: "At your company, do you faire la bise (from reading the other answers, this seems to be the term for what is being described) or would you recommend that I faire la bise when I join the company? I don't want to be rude to my female colleagues and I want to know what the norms are at your company". You could also ask this to your hiring manager once you meet them, before meeting the rest of the team, if you prefer. I'm sure they would be happy to tell you what the norms are at the company, and then you should have no problem; just do as the Romans do and don't worry about engaging your own biases.

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