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Monday, October 18, 2021

La bise returns to France. Is this the beginning of the end of the novel coronavirus?

In India, where social hierarchies make touch a fraught thing, and where universal vaccination seems a long stretch away, all this fuss must seem like a first-world problem.

By: Editorial |
Updated: September 30, 2021 8:32:30 am
But, as it turns out, like all habits upended by Covid-19 it is not easy to turn the clock back.

What’s more French than picking the perfect baguette, or the long lunch at a Parisian café? It’s la bise — a kiss (sometimes more) on each cheek with which Frenchmen and women have greeted friends and loved ones for centuries. Until, that is, the arrival of the novel coronavirus. Around the world, Covid-19 has not only claimed millions of lives and flattened economies, it also marooned people on islands of self-isolation. It turned the small rituals of togetherness — the hug and the handshake, the small talk with strangers and the communal feast — into mortal hazards. In France, la bise, a sign of affection and even fraternity, became a casualty of the pandemic.

The vaccine is turning out to be a kiss of life. With over 70 per cent of France’s population now inoculated, the French are returning to kiss and greet. Even President Emmanuel Macron, who had urged his countrymen to restrain their instinct to shake hands or kiss each other at the height of the pandemic, has been seen tossing an air-kiss or two. In India, where social hierarchies make touch a fraught thing, and where universal vaccination seems a long stretch away, all this fuss must seem like a first-world problem. We have found a way to restore our social life — whether it is the adda at the tea shop or the unhurried stroll at fish markets or the revenge tourism at hill stations — armed with nothing more than dangerous complacency and a mask on our chins.

But, as it turns out, like all habits upended by Covid-19 it is not easy to turn the clock back. Who is to blame if some French shudder at viral loads and exposure when drawn into la bise? Nevertheless, if the muah-muah is back, can our old lives be far behind?

This editorial first appeared in the print edition on September 30, 2021 under the title ‘Kiss of life’.

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