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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