By Damon Mitchell • 17 May 2020 • 15:08
FRENCH citizens might be slowly emerging from confinement, but they aren’t bringing back all their old habits. One of them, la bise – the subtle art of kissing everyone on the cheek –is definitely not returning as shops and schools reopen.
People stopped la bise in the 14th century because of the plague, it was only after the First World War that the custom began again. The Romans first introduced kissing to the French and their ‘basium,’ a polite kiss, translated into la bise in French.
The bourgeoisie, however, still felt it a bit common and it took until the mid 20th century for the entire cross-section of French society to kiss each other again.
French Health Minister, Olivier Véran, told a press conference in March that not only was it a bad idea to shake hands but la bise was definitely a no-go.
As the New York Times reported, “If the handshake is the Ford Durango or Levi’s 501 of introductions, then la bise is as French as a baguette.” It cuts through social class, makes everyone equal and it’s a little tricky to imagine Parisian’s giving each other contactless high fives.
At the beginning of March, Parisien mayoral candidate, Agnès Buzyn, suggested that even smiling and waving would suffice and was duly ridiculed for imagining such a thing. Ten weeks later it has become the new normal.
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