Global Processing

Amid swine flu France kissing goodbye to ''la bise''

September 8, 2009
It''s a ubiquitous French tradition, as familiar as a baguette or an espresso at the neighborhood cafe. And now, according to the Associated Press, the cheek-to-cheek peck that the French use to say hello or goodbye, "la bise," 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. Across France, authorities and school officials are taking few chances — while trying to avoid stirring panic when the academic year started last week. In recent months, a few schools in France have been temporarily shut after cases of swine flu emerged. For kids in two schools in the town of Guilvinec, in France''s western Brittany region, the first lesson of the year came from local officials: no more cheek kisses to teachers or other students. Many in France see a threat to cherished customs. The national government isn''t calling for a ban. But the Health Ministry, on its swine flu phone hotline, recommends that people avoid "close contact — including shaking hands and giving the bise.” A ministry Web site on the pandemic recommends avoiding "direct contact" with people, "not kissing, shaking hands or caressing the face" of others — especially sick people.