No French Word for “Hug”

hugparisblogI was horrified to learn in my first French course that there existed no word for “hug.”
“But embrasser?” we naively asked. “Surely that must mean to embrace?”

“No,” our kind teacher informed us, “embrasser means to kiss.”

“So this,” we said, wrapping our arms around ourselves. “What do you call this?”
Surely a simple demonstration would quickly clear up the matter.

“Prendre quelqu’un dans les bras”, Madame Julie said.

“Come on,” we snorted. “You must have a word for ‘taking someone in your arms.’” French is supposed to be lyrical – what’s with this unwieldy phrase?

Calin, she offered, but I have since gotten wise to that, too. A calin is a cuddle, and a cuddle does not a hug make or vice versa (though both are nice).

This should have served as (one of) my warning(s) about France – what kind of place doesn’t have a word for hug?

sarkozybruniobamaparisblogThe missing word is not the only cause for concern. It’s missing the hugs, period. I grew up on big bear hugs. Hugs are used as greeting, comfort, congratulations, and more where I’m from. Getting used to la bise was a whole other story.

Ah yes, la bise. After 3 1/2 years I still find la bise awkward: Do I touch your cheek or don’t I? Must I make a kissing noise to accompany the air kiss? I’ve moved in too close, my face is too far. No matter how many times I do it, I never get it right.


6 Responses to “No French Word for “Hug””

  1. Comment by Duncan Leung | 03/29/10 at 6:46 am

    Thats pretty interesting; I actually just asked my friends from France about this too! And they said the same thing =)

  2. Comment by Paris Imperfect | 03/29/10 at 12:37 pm

    Yes, indeed. Glad to have the confirmation! It does strike me as an interesting cultural difference.

  3. Comment by Martin | 03/29/10 at 7:32 pm

    I think the word is “hug” with a French accent. But there’s also this site:

    Which makes a case for “calin”. Anyway, the videos are interesting in that they show that there is a strong need for hugs in Paris.

  4. Comment by paris (im)perfect | 03/29/10 at 7:37 pm

    Hi Martin. Nice point. Yes, “hug” with a French accent because there is no French word for hug! I know about the “Calins Gratuits.” Calin still means cuddle to me, but it’s a good thing they’re doing. Paris is definitely in need of some hugs :)

  5. Comment by Lazarus | 03/30/10 at 7:21 am

    Interesting about the word for “hug.” The French are definitely different from Americans. But different in many good ways too. It’s a great country, no doubt. For a comical view of a recent trip to France, see

  6. Comment by lothi.118 | 11/17/10 at 10:46 am

    The word you’re looking for is ” l’accolade”. Donner l’accolade means to hug. it’s just an old word which is not as fashionable as to hug. But it still works.

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