Where we are from, two ways : either you know the person well, and when catching up both of you will instantly lean towards another and give a kiss on each cheek, or you do not know the person well enough so both will keep at a reasonable distance, and bring their right arms forward to shake hands in a more formal way.
In France, hugging is for really close friends and family, and is in fact usually a combo : 1 big hug + (1 kiss x each cheek).
So when we arrived for good in Bakersfield after giving SO MANY goodbye jumbo-combo hugs and kisses on a great number of cheeks, and when people we had already met in here came close to give us “hello hugs” while I was going for a handshake, I would instantly switch and go all the way to the x2-cheek-kisses. Awkward moments? No, perfect ice breaker! Now instead of talking about the mid-june heat and what a weired choice we made by choosing Bakersfield over Paris, we got a real inter-cultural conversation going on.
It turns out hugs can be as uncomfortable to French people as cheek-kisses (aka “la bise”, pronounced [labiz] look wiered to our hosts. Because they are considered quite a familiar or intimate gesture.
Great debates and laughts came out of this. So I might as well continue to go for la bise, just to get and keep the intercultural vibe going :).