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French has a number of different words for "kiss," which, though not surprising for such a romantic language, can be confusing for French learners. The most common terms are bise and bisou, and while they are both informal with similar meanings and uses, they're not exactly the same.
Une bise is a kiss on the cheek, a gesture of friendship exchanged while saying hello and good-bye. It's not romantic, so it can be used between friends and acquaintances of any gender combination, particularly two women and a woman and man. Two men are likely to say/write it only if they are family or very close friends. Bise is most commonly found in the expression faire la bise.
In the plural, bises is used when saying good-bye (e.g., Au revoir et bises à tous) and at the end of a personal letter: Bises, Grosses bises, Bises ensoleillées (from a friend in a sunny place), etc.
Again, bises is platonic. It does not mean that the letter writer is trying to take your relationship to the next level; it's basically shorthand for saying good-bye with the classic French cheek/air kiss: je te fais la bise.
Familiar spelling variation: biz
Un bisou is a warmer, more playful, and more familiar version of bise. It can refer to a kiss on the cheek or on the lips, so may be used when talking to lovers and platonic friends. Bisous can say good-bye to a good friend (A demain! Bisous à toute la famille) as well at the end of a letter: Bisous, Gros bisous, Bisous aux enfants, etc. When saying good-bye on the phone, friends sometimes repeat it several times: Bisous, bisous, bisous! Bisous, tchao, bisous!
Familiar abbreviation: bx
More French Kisses
- un baiser - kiss
- un bécot (informal) - kiss, peck
- un patin (informal) - French kiss, kiss with tongues
- une pelle (informal) - French kiss
- un smack - noisy kiss
- bécoter (informal) - to kiss, smooch
- biser - to kiss
- donner un baiser - to kiss
- embrasser - to kiss
- envoyer un baiser - to blow a kiss
- envoyer un smack - to give a noisy kiss
- faire une bise/un bisou - to kiss (usually on the cheek)
- rouler un patin - to French kiss
- rouler une pelle - to French kiss
- sucer la poire/pomme - to kiss passionately, neck
Warning: As a noun it's perfectly acceptable, and it's ok to say baiser la main, but otherwise, do not use baiser as a verb! Though it originally meant "to kiss," it is now an informal way to say "to have sex."
- le bouche-à-bouche - kiss of life
- le coup fatal - kiss of death
- divulguer des secrets d'alcôve - to kiss and tell
- faire de la lèche (familiar) - to kiss up
- faire la paix - to kiss and make up
- faire un croix dessus (informal) - to kiss something good-bye
- plaquer - to give a boyfriend/girlfriend the kiss-off
- raconter ses secrets d'alcôve - to kiss and tell
- virer - to give an employee the kiss-off