In chats with friends in Paris, everyone echoed the same prediction of a 50% affected rate for Swine flu in the upcoming flu season. In our family, we are thinking we will all be sick by the time the season is over. That said, there are things you can do to help avoid the flu, like obsessively washing your hands, trying not to touch your face, and avoiding close contact with strangers and friends, such as the ever-present “bise.” The cultural consideration and effects are severe:
PARIS — It’s a ubiquitous French tradition, as familiar as a baguette or an espresso at the neighborhood cafe. Now, “la bise,” the cheek-to-cheek peck that the French use to say hello or goodbye, has come under pressure from a globalized threat: swine flu.
Some French schools, companies and a Health Ministry hotline are telling students and employees to avoid the social ritual out of fear the pandemic could make it the kiss of death, or at least illness, as winter approaches.
When I worked in France, we’d give the bise every day to every co-worker of the opposite sex, as well as a quick handshake to everyone we saw. It’s hard to imagine this tradition stopping in France, but the flu has everyone freaked out.
The New York Times ran a story the other day (Swine Flu Upsets Rituals of Greeting) as well on relative risk levels of different contact, and the bise, or even Hollywood-style air kiss was right at the top, so look for less kissing and touching in the months to come as we all suffer through the season.
With all the other strange politics going on, all we need is one more reason to suspect and avoid each other.