Kissing Off the Kissing Habit?

Written by admin on September 9, 2009 – 7:46 pm -

It’s as common as seeing a person carrying a baguette or drinking an espresso while standing at the bar of a neighborhood café, la bise.  But now, now la bise, the cheek-to-cheek pecks that the French use when saying hello or goodbye, has come under pressure as a result of the global swine flu threat.

Even though there have only been three (possible) swine-flu related deaths reported, the French Ministry of Health is alerting people they need to stop kissing. And they mean it even though it goes against the grain of French tradition.

Some are wondering how and if the French will be able to kick la bise habit—and habit it is.  Most Parisians will kiss twice, once on each check, and usually the right cheek gets served first.  I hear that overly enthusiastic students may kiss four times.  But if you kiss three times, people will ask if you’re Belgian.  This is not a compliment, though better to kiss too much than not at all, right?

As winter approaches, some French schools, companies and a hotline sponsored by the Health Ministry are advising students and employees to cut out the kissing, which is as much a ritual as a greeting. They fear that because of flu, a kiss might cause illness or in the extreme possibly death.  Which would be a high price to pay for an air-kiss on the cheek, but better to be cautious than get the flu, which causes people to run incredibly high fevers, is highly contagious and leaves people feeling as if they want to die even if the virus is a temporary affliction. Those who’ve had the flu report that every bone in their body has ached, and some say they’ve never experienced a flu that’s plowed them under as acutely.

So, the Health Ministry advises keeping a minimum of a three-foot distance from people and states that facemasks should be worn when possible. “These are recommendations, not requirements: People are free to do what they like,” said a hotline operator. The government’s main thrust is to encourage people to wash their hands frequently and use sanitary wipes and gels.  Caution is the rule of the week. Teachers are requesting that students refrain from kissing one another—which, if they’re keeping a distance of three feet would be hard to do anyway, but it might be interesting to watch them trying.

Some people are staying away from department stores and other closed places for fear of being infected. Since the swine flu vaccine won’t be available until October, many people are being extra cautious. That’s okay, but not kissing?

Besides prevention, stay home if you’re running a fever or think you might be contracting the flu.   Marie-Louise and Jean have decided to postpone putting their one-year-old into the crèche (day-care) until the flu has come and gone. It will mean one parent will need to stay at home with their daughter until they line up a caregiver.  Some parents are banding together to alternate homes where their children may stay with one parent at a time so they aren’t exposed to twenty or more children who spend their days at a local center.  That’s okay too—though you might ask how many toddlers create a critical mass of infection—but not kissing?

It will be interesting to see whether or not this is yet another blow to tourism. A French tour operator said some people have canceled their travel plans because of the swine flu epidemic—which has not reached epidemic levels in France.  All you have to do is walk through any airport and you’ll see people wearing facemasks.   Is this another avian flu that dealt the deathblow to travel in 1997? Are you postponing your plans for fear of contamination?  Let’s face it; most tourists would rather be sick at home than spending vacation time down and out in a hotel room—even if there is a view of the Eiffel Tower.

But trying to keep people from kissing, while hygienically sound, doesn’t sound very French to me.  I wonder if it will actually become the rule—and la bise will pass into history, along with the beret, the horizontally striped shirt, and the cigarettes known as Parisiennes, sold in paper packages of four really nasty smokes.  And what about shaking hands?  Everybody does that in France, constantly, sometimes even while kissing.  Can that be far behind?  And, while we’re at it, what about sex?


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Posted in Paris |

Will the French be able to stop kissing to prevent a swine flu outbreak?

Written by admin on September 8, 2009 – 4:53 pm -

In France, kissing is as common as seeing a person carrying a baguette or drinking an espresso while standing at the bar of a neighborhood café.

Now, “la bise,” (cheek-to-cheek pecks) that the French use while saying hello or goodbye, has come under pressure because of the current threat of global swine flu.

Even though only three (possible) swine-flu related deaths have been reported, the French Ministry of Health is alerting people they need to stop kissing. And they are serious, even though it goes against the grain of French tradition.

Some are wondering how and if the French will be able to kick the bise habit. When greeting each other, they peck cheeks alternating three of four times in rapid succession. Parisians, and most especially students, kiss four times. Any excuse and there are additional kisses. Shaking hands and cheek kisses are imprinted in a French person’s psyche as to what’s correct and what’s not.

As winter approaches, some French schools, companies and a hot-line sponsored by Health Ministry, are advising students and employees to avoid the social kissing ritual. They fear that because of flu, a kiss might cause illness or in the extreme, death.

Better to be cautious than contract this strain, which causes people to run incredibly high fevers. It’s highly contagious and leaves people feeling as if they want to die even if the virus is a temporary affliction. Those who’ve had the flu report that every bone in their body has ached and some say they’ve never experienced a flu that’s plowed them under so acutely.

People are advised to keep a minimum of a three feet from others and face masks should be worn when possible. “These are recommendations, not requirements: People are free to do what they like.” said a hot-line operator.

The French government’s main thrust is to encourage people to wash their hands frequently and use sanitary wipes and gels. Caution is the rule of the week. Teachers are requesting students refrain from kissing one another and French government authorities are asking people to sneeze into tissues – or even their sleeves – to avoid air-born germs.

Some people are staying away from department stores and other closed places for fear of being infected. Since the swine flu vaccine isn’t forecast to be available until October, many people are being extra cautious. Besides prevention, stay home if you’re running a fever or think you might be contracting the flu.

It will be interesting to see whether or not this is yet another blow to tourism.

A French tour operator said some people have canceled their travel plans because of the most recent epidemic which isn’t confined to France but is global. Not a day goes by when there aren’t doom and gloom forecasts concerning this pandemic.

All you have to do is walk through any airport and you’ll see people wearing face-masks. Is this another Avian flu that dealt the deathblow to travel a few years ago? Are you postponing your plans for fear of contamination? Let’s face it; most tourists would rather be sick at home rather than spending vacation time down and out in a hotel room – even if there is a view of the Eiffel Tower.

Please post whether or not you’re changing your travel plans. If you’re not, what precautions are you taking? Or, are you among those who view the flu a get-up-and-go opportunity?

Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris.


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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Come back to Mexico – come back

Written by admin on May 15, 2009 – 5:47 pm -

The Mexican Tourist Board is launching a multi-million dollar investment plan that will include a global public relations campaign. It is also calling for U.S. authorities to lift the travel ban with the hope that doing so will restore confidence in Mexico’s being one of the world’s top tourist destinations.

Its tourism industry has been crippled by the outbreak of swine flu or more correctly, the H1N1 virus. Twenty-five hotels in the Cancun area have closed because of the crisis that was feared to have the potential of becoming a global pandemic.

After the numbers are tallied, the influenza caused 65 deaths – and that’s throughout the world. That’s nothing to sneer about. But happily, it’s not a plague some people had feared.

Nor has the US State Department dropped its travel alert that all non-essential travel should be shelved for now.

In the meantime, flight operators are extending the suspension of planes to Mexico. Thomson and First Choice Holidays have canceled all outbound flights to Cancun and Cozumel through May 18th. Thomas Cook has placed holidays to Cancun on hold until May 23rd.

To exacerbate the drastic fall in the number of tourists coming and staying in hotels and apartments, cruise lines diverted ships from anchoring at Mexican ports.

As a result of dwindling tourism, a group of three hotel chains on Mexico’s Caribbean coast – Real Resorts, Dreams and Secrets have joined together and have issued a “flu-free guarantee.” The hotels will offer a total of 5,000 rooms to travelers who exhibit flu systems within eight days of returning from Mexico and the free vacation offer will be valid for three years.

I am not minimizing the seriousness that the H1N1 virus might have had and agree that the Center for Disease Control and other government and medical groups had no choice but to take strident measures to insure people’s safety.

The question is whether or not the media went too far and scared the public unnecessarily. After the initial findings indicated this flu was not a repetition of the 1918 H1N1 pandemic, should the media and government authorities eased up?

Is this an example of officials being too cautious and as a result, having a dramatic negative impact on Mexico’s economy?

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.


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Posted in Consumer Traveler |