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la bise and swine flu
By David at 09/08/2009 - 06:05
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. The children are asked not to kiss anymore since it is worse than asking kids to wash hands regularly, not throw used handkerchiefs around, and not cough any old way. It's just part of an effort to adopt new and more sanitary habits, and there's no punishment involved for those who do exchange bises.
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.
It advises keeping a one-meter (3 foot) buffer zone as a minimum, or wearing masks if that's not possible. It doesn't specifically mention la bise. The excerpts from the website is: 
From the first days of school, September 2, all students from kindergarten to graduation, receive in schools, information on "gestures barriers" to prevent the spread of the virus. Posters and stickers available from the Inpes are available to school leaders.
• Wash hands several times a day with soap for 30 seconds or a hydro-alcoholic solution 
• Use a disposable tissue to cough or sneeze, or do so by covering his mouth with his sleeve, to Prevent the Spread of the virus in the air 
• avoid contact with an infected person
Cheek kissing is a ritual or social gesture to indicate friendship, perform a greeting, to confer congratulations, to comfort someone, or to show respect. It does not necessarily indicate sexual or romantic interest.
Cheek kissing is very common in Southern Europe, the Mediterranean, the Middle East and Latin America. It is not as common in English-speaking Canada and the United States, Asia and Northern Europe. However, there are some exceptions in North America, including ethnic neighborhoods, such as Italian, French, or Hispanic neighborhoods, as well as Quebec, Louisiana and Miami.
Soviet and other eastern European communist leaders often greeted each other in this fashion on public and state occasions. Nowadays in Eastern Europe male-female and female-female cheek kissing is a very common greeting between friends, especially younger than 35 years old. Male-male cheek kissing is rare.
Depending on the local culture, cheek kissing may be considered appropriate between a man and a woman, a parent and a child, two women, or two men. The latter is socially accepted in South Eastern Europe and in some countries of the South Western Europe, Latin America and the Middle East, and in Europe generally it is becoming increasingly common especially among the young. It may, however, bring up associations with homosexuality in Asia, some places in Latin America and the US.
In a cheek kiss, both persons lean forward and either lightly touch cheek with cheek or lip with cheek. Generally the gesture is repeated with the other cheek, or more, alternating cheeks. Depending on country and situation, the number of kisses is usually one, two, three or four. Hand-shaking or hugging may also take place.
Cheek-kissing is used in many cultures with slightly varying meaning and gesture. For example, cheek-kissing may or may not be associated with a hug. The appropriate social context for use can vary greatly from one country to the other, though the gesture might look similar.
North America
In the United States and Canada, the cheek kiss may involve one or both cheeks. According to March 15, 2004 edition of Time Magazine, "a single kiss is acceptable [greeting] in the United States, but it's mostly a big-city phenomenon." In most relationships, the girl usually kisses the boy on the cheek as a sign of love or affection.
Cheek kissing of children by adults of both sexes is perhaps the most common cheek kiss in North America. Typically it is a short, perfunctory greeting, and is most often done by relatives.
Cheek kissing between adults, when it occurs at all, is most often done between a man and woman who know each other well, such as between relatives or close friends. In this case, a short hug (generally only upper-body contact) may accompany the kiss. Also common is cheek kissing between two women who know each other or are related. Likewise, hugs are common but not required. A hug alone may also suffice in both of these situations, and is much more common.
However, occasionally cheek kissing is a romantic gesture, such as among a boy and girl.
A variation of the cheek kiss is the air kiss. This kiss is done without actually making contact with the skin, but with the lips fairly close to the cheek.
A kiss may also be blown from a distance of several feet. This is most often done as flirting, but it can also be done sarcastically.
Particularly in the Southeast, elderly women may be cheek-kissed by younger men as a gesture of affection and respect.
Immigrant groups tend to have their own norms for cheek kissing, usually carried over from their native country.
In Miami, Florida, an area heavily influenced by Latin American and European immigrants, kissing hello on the cheek is the social norm.
In parts of New England, cheek kissing, or touching, is becoming more and more popularly used among circles, mainly in areas of French or Roman Catholic influence.[citation needed]
In Quebec, cheek kissing is referred to, in a popular language, as "un bec" (donner un bec). People of the opposite sex usually kiss once on each cheek. Cheek kissing between women is also very common, though sometimes men will refrain. Two people introduced by a mutual friend may also donner un bec.
Southern Europe
French president Charles de Gaulle kisses Argentine president Arturo Illia in 1964.
Cheek kissing is a standard greeting throughout Southern Europe between friends or acquaintances, but less common in professional settings. In general, men and women would kiss and women will kiss women. Men kissing men varies depending on the country and even on the family, in some countries men will kiss men; in others only men of the same family would consider kissing. It may also depend on the part of a country and the occasion.
Greece is an example of a country where cheek kissing highly depends on the region and the type of event. For example, in most parts of Crete, it is common between a man and a woman who are friends, but is very uncommon between men unless they are close relatives. In Athens it may be commonplace between close friends of both sexes when meeting or departing. It is uncommon between strangers of any sex, and it may be considered offensive otherwise. It's standard for children and parents, children and grandparents etc., and in its "formal" form it will be two kisses, one on each cheek. It may be a standard formal form of greeting in special events such as weddings.
However, in Portugal and Spain, the situation is quite similar to the Mexican situation, where women always salute with two kisses and, usually, men only kiss women (even with strangers). It should be noted that in Portuguese families men often kiss men, but the handshake is the most common salutation between them. However, men kissing may occur in Spain and Mexico as well, particularly when congratulating close friends or relatives. Cheek to cheek and the kiss in the air are also very popular. Hugging is common between men and men and women and women; when the other is from the opposite sex, a kiss may be added.

In the former Yugoslavia cheek kissing is also very commonplace, with your nationality being ascertainable by the number of kisses on each cheek. Typically, Croatians and Muslims will kiss once on each cheek, for two total kisses, whereas Serbs (be they from Bosnia, Serbia or Montenegro) will kiss three times, typically starting at the right cheek. In Serbia and Montenegro, it is also not uncommon for men to kiss each other on the cheek three times as a form of greeting, usually for people they have not encountered in a while while male-female and female-female kissing is also standard. 


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