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How to Hug in French

In our last lesson, we talked about the different words for kissing in French, and how the COVID pandemic has affected the French custom of la bise. Now we'll focus on hugging. Yes, French people hug too! However, there are differences. Unlike in Anglo-Saxon countries, where hugging is what la bise is to French people, hugging is not so prevalent in France. A hug is not used as a greeting, as full-body contact may be considered intrusive. Hugging is more of a private affair, a heartfelt show of affection. So, if you’re not comfortable with la bise, don’t think that you can make a compromise by giving a hug instead! 

 

In fact, the word for “hug” doesn’t have a direct translation in French.

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Instead, you’ll find a paraphrase: serrer dans ses bras (to squeeze in one's arms) or prendre dans ses bras (to hold in one’s arms).

 

J'aurais bien voulu, pour passer le temps te serrer dans mes bras amicalement

I really would have liked, to pass the time to squeeze you warmly in my arms

Captions 1-2, Babylon Circus - J'aurais bien voulu

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Un câlin is a more familiar hug, more like a cuddle:

 

Que le mot soit doux comme un câlin

May the word be sweet like a cuddle

Caption 4, Les Nubians - Que le mot soit perle

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You can also use the verbal phrase faire un câlin (to hug or cuddle). Sophie and Patrice even use it when talking about hugging their Christmas tree!

 

Moi, j'aime bien faire des câlins aux arbres. -Allez viens. On va lui faire un petit câlin

I really like hugging trees. -Come on, we'll go give it a little hug

Caption 86, Sophie et Patrice - Après Noël

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And you can give bisous, bises, and câlins in writing too, with no fear of contamination! It's equivalent to "kisses and hugs" at the end of a letter, text message, or email:

 

Bisous, câlins, Maman.

Kisses and hugs, Mom.

Caption 40, Extr@ Ep. 1 - L'arrivée de Sam - Part 1

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Finally, there's the more formal une étreinte, which is "an embrace," and its verbal form étreindre (to embrace):

 

J'aurais voulu que cette étreinte avec mon père dure éternellement.

I would have liked this embrace with my father to last forever.

Caption 25, Le Jour où tout a basculé À la recherche de mon père - Part 9

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Le soir, on s'étreint, les deux pieds dans l'eau

In the evening, we embrace, both feet in the water

Caption 21, Duel - Caramel

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The word embrasser is cognate with "embrace," but don't let that confuse you: it means "to kiss," not "to hug." See our last lesson for more on that.

 

The French might not hug each other as much as Americans do, but they have quite a few different ways of saying "hug"!

Vocabulary

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