Hugging in France

How Do You Say "Hug" in French?

Two friends meet and hug in the streets of Barcelona.
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Depending in large part on where you're from, a hug between friends can be the most natural thing in the world - or an invasion of your personal space. Hugging is often tied to culture. Generally speaking, a majority of Americans hug frequently. Sometimes we hug acquaintances and even strangers to say thank you for an act of kindness or to offer comfort. The same doesn't ring true for all countries. In France, hugging is much less common.

Hugging in France

The French very rarely hug. In France, hugs are not a part of daily life. Unlike Americans, the French do not use hugging as a greeting. Instead, they kiss cheeks (faire la bise) informally and shake hands in formal settings. Because they are not given often, hugs tend to make French people uncomfortable and can easily seem like an invasion of personal space. Hugs are not normal between strangers, acquaintances, or even most friends and family. If at all, they are usually reserved for young children or lovers. And even then, French hugs are often not a big bear hug or a full body press.

This cultural difference can lead to awkward situations. It is not unheard of for Americans to give out hugs to French people, only to find that they've made the other person uncomfortable. You should avoid hugging any French people unless they initiate it. When greeting a French person, if unsure about how to kiss cheeks, the safe way to go is to shake hands.

How Do You Say "Hug" in French?

In spoken French, the most used term for "hug" is câlin, despite the fact that câlin is a noun that literally means "cuddle" rather than "hug". The term is used in informal situations. Less conventionally used nouns for hugging are une étreinte (which can also mean grip or stranglehold) or the literary term une embrassade (which Le Petit Robert defines as the action of two people who hug amicably).

As for translations of the verb "to hug", there are embrasser (to embrace, but more commonly to kiss), étreindre (to embrace, but also to grasp, seize), and serrer dans ses bras (to hold tightly in one's arms).