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HEALTH

La bise blues: How the French are coping with the coronavirus kissing ban

It's been the source of confusion and a certain amount of fear for years among foreigners - but now the French themselves have been told to stop kissing.

La bise blues: How the French are coping with the coronavirus kissing ban
La bise, the traditional French cheek kissing, is now banned due to coronavirus fears. Photo: AFP

One week has passed since the French health minister Olivier Véran pulled the rug out from underneath the feet of the entire French population by saying people should not longer do la bise, the distinctive French double (or treble) cheek kiss used when greeting people.

In order to try and slow the spread of coronavirus, French people have been asked to stop shaking hands and kissing when they greet each other.

You can follow our coverage of the latest on the coronavirus situation in France here.

 

Because la bise is so firmly ingrained in French culture, some people found it a bit difficult to know how to act post-bise.

“I've hear a lot of people complaining that they don't know what to do,” said Francis, an American from New York who has lived for 54 years in France. She said she thought la bise was “a very nice thing in the French culture.”

“It's friendly affectionate, but not too intimate,” she said.

READ ALSO: La bise – who to kiss in France, how often and on which cheek?

“I don't really mind, but a lot of people find it really bad,” Francis said.

 

The past week, French newspapers have been filled with advice on alternative ways of greeting each other.

A France Inter article called 10 ways to say hello without doing la bise or shaking hands listed the “Ebola handshake” (bumping elbows), the “footshake” or even a “namasté” as alternative ways of greeting someone.

Nouvel Obs simply asked: “What shall we do now?” 

“Say hello by a sign with the hand? Do a “footshake” or a “fist bump” like Barak Obama? A “Thai way?”

Etiquette expert Philippe Lichtfus, who has been widely cited in the media, explained to readers of daily Le Parisien how to do a proper handshake (although handshakes were blacklisted too by the health minister).

“It’s important to stand straight in front of the other person and not side on,” Lichtfus said, explaining that it is also possible “to greet each other without touching,” by simply “looking into a person's eyes.”

“By facing each other, making eye contact, and, importantly, wearing an ‘open’ facial expression,” Lichtfus said.

Former presidents Jacques Chirac and George Bush stuck to a handshake, but can you spot the difference in their attitudes? Photo: AFP

READ ALSO: Should two foreigners in France 'faire la bise'?

A despairing France trying to cope with quitting la bise cold turkey quickly turned into a national joke, with journalists poking fun at politicians who had said they would now stop doing la bise.

“France, the nation that loves body-contact, with people who stink and exchange slobbery kisses, has been reduced to just a shadow of its former self,” joked a France Inter radio journalist earlier this week, sarcastically recalling Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo saying how much she “loved doing la bise,” and was “really sorry” that she now would have to stop kissing people during her re-election campaign.

One of Hidalgo's main rivals, former health minister Agnès Buzyn, was also ridiculed for having told BFMTV that Parisians would probably “elbow bump” each other instead of kissing “within a week.”

 

But some French people said they had indeed resorted to an elbow bump to compensate for the lacking bise.

“I elbow bump my friends,” said Florence, 37.

“If it's people I don't know, I just nod my head. I prefer it, I don't really like shaking hands or doing la bise because of the bacteria.”

Kissing a police officer on the cheek would perhaps not be accepted in all countries, but France is not like everywhere else. Photo: AFP 

READ ALSO: Bretons fight for the right to give just one greeting kiss 

Elise, 33, said la bise was something she only did with people “you don't see every day.” She had stopped initiating la bise following the health minister's coronavirus advise.

“But if someone offers I won't turn them down. I don't really see how you could transmit anything just by touching each other's cheek,” she said.

“Unless you're really coughing on the other person, but frankly that never happens.”

“But I don't shake hands. And I use hand sanitiser more than before.”

READ ALSO (paywall free): Garlic and urine – things that will not protect you from coronavirus in France (plus a few things that will)

As Prime Minister of the UK, Theresa May had to do la bise when meeting her French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron. It was not a French tradition that she seemed to want to import to Britain. Photo: AFP

Sylvie, 56, said she also preferred saving la bise for close friends.

“It's a sign of friendship,” she said. 

She had stopped shaking people's hand and doing la bise because “they told us not to as a safety measure.” 

“I don't know where la bise comes from, it's just the way it is. The way it always has been,” she said.

“My son will do la bise with his male friends. That's something that seems to have changed from one generation to the next.”

“When I was young, men used to shake hands instead of kissing.”

READ ALSO The everyday precautions you can take against coronavirus 

And in general it seems that the French are pretty obedient to the new rules.

Simon, 28, was the only person The Local spoke to who said he had not stopped doing la bise.

“We hear so much about the coronavirus, but I don't really feel like it's that exceptional,” he said.

Simon said he would do la bise with friends (male and female), but not strangers. 

“That's just the way it is in France,” he said.

“I guess it's more symbolic than shaking hands.”

 

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HEALTH

First suspected case of monkeypox reported in France

France reported its first suspected case of monkeypox on Thursday, after cases of the virus were reported in several neighbouring countries.

First suspected case of monkeypox reported in France

A first suspected case of monkeypox in France was reported in the Paris area on Thursday, the country’s direction générale de la santé has said, two weeks after a first case of the virus in Europe was discovered in the UK.

Since that first case was reported on May 6th, more than 30 other cases have been confirmed in Spain, Portugal, the UK, Sweden, Canada and the USA.

Here we explain what is known about the viral disease.

Why is it called monkeypox?

The virus was first identified in 1958 in laboratory monkeys – which is where the name comes from – but rodents are now considered the probable main animal host.

It is mainly observed in isolated areas of central and western Africa, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said, with the first case in humans reported in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Why is it in the news?

Monkeypox does not usually spread beyond Western and Central Africa. It is the first time, for example, it has been identified in Spain or Portugal.

It is believed the relaxing of Covid-19 travel rules have allowed the virus to spread further than usual.

The first case in the UK was reported on May 6th, in a patient who had recently travelled to Nigeria. But in the eight cases reported since, several had no connection to each other, and none had recently travelled, prompting experts to believe a number of cases have gone unreported.

Scientists are now working to find out if those cases are linked. 

What are the symptoms?

Initially, the infected patient experiences fever, headache, muscle pain, inflammation of the lymph node, backache and severe fatigue. Then pimples appear, first on the face, then in the palms of the hands and on the soles of the feet. The mucous membranes of the mouth, genitals and cornea may also be affected. 

It has been described by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as similar but less serious than smallpox. In most cases, symptoms disappear in two to three weeks and the patient makes a full recovery.

There are two known strains of the virus: the more severe Congo strain and the West African strain. UK cases reported to date have been the West African strain.

How is it transmitted?

Monkeypox is most often transmitted to humans by infected rodents or primates through direct contact with blood, body fluids, or skin or mucous membrane lesions of these animals. 

Human-to-human transmission occurs primarily through respiratory droplet particles during prolonged contact. But contamination can come from close contact with skin lesions of an infected individual or from objects, such as bedding, recently contaminated with biological fluids or materials from a patient’s lesions.

More severe cases are related to the length of time patients are exposed to the virus, their state of health, and whether the virus leads to other health complications. 

Young children are more sensitive to this virus.

Can it be treated?

There is no specific treatment or preventive vaccine against monkeypox – and the huge majority of patients recover fully with appropriate care.

Smallpox vaccination was effective in the past at also providing protection from monkeypox, but with that disease considered eradicated, people are no longer vaccinated against it, which has allowed monkeypox to spread once again. 

Should we be worried?

Experts have said that we’re not going to see the virus reach epidemic levels.

“There is no evidence that human-to-human transmission alone can maintain monkeypox in the human population,” the WHO has said.

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