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.
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
I really would have liked, to pass the time
te serrer dans mes bras amicalement
to squeeze you warmly in my arms
Captions 1-2, Babylon Circus - J'aurais bien vouluPlay Caption
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 perlePlay Caption
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.
I really like hugging trees.
-Allez viens. On va lui faire un petit câlin.
-Come on, we'll go give it a little hug.
Caption 86, Sophie et Patrice - Après NoëlPlay Caption
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 SamPlay Caption
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.Play Caption
Le soir, on s'étreint, les deux pieds dans l'eau
In the evening, we embrace, both feet in the water
Caption 21, Duel - CaramelPlay Caption
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"!