France facing 'la bise' ban over swine flu fears
It is as French as croissants and coffee, but "la bise", France's age-old method of greeting with a peck on the cheek, is facing a ban due to fears that kissing is the best way to catch swine flu.
Companies and schools have started outlawing the traditional French social ritual following a health ministry warning that it could turn into the kiss of death for the nation in the event of a winter H1N1 pandemic.
Large companies like Axa, the insurance giant, have told employees to salute each other with a wave of the hand rather than a kiss or firm handshake.
Schools in the town of Guilvinec, in Brittany, western France, were the first to introduce a bise ban for teachers and students.
Although recommended, a kissing ban has not yet been enforced by law in France – but is likely to be part of a string of emergency measures introduced this winter.
British visitors might welcome temporary respite from la bise – which often brings with it confusion and embarrassment as the number of kisses varies from region to region.
But in France, commentators are already fretting that kissing may never recover from a blanket ban in a hygiene-obsessed age.
"What if la bise disappeared from our customs for good after H1N1's passage?," asked Pascal Riché in news website rue89.fr. Until now, he went on, people "didn't realise the risks they ran by touching each other, and it was better that way".
He called on the French to "enter resistance" against any ban on kissing, but also drinking from the same glass, backslapping, or even impromptu massages.