Totally Frenched Out

From the blogger formerly known as Samdebretagne

Sunday, September 20, 2009

If you live in France, you know that the French have gone hog wild (ha!) over the swine flu. Despite having experienced just three H1N1-related deaths, people have seemed really panicky about it. Every day this past week, it was the number one topic on the front page of Ouest-France, and you can't go a day without it being mentioned on the news as well.

So of course the next logical step for these chronic hypochondriacs was to attempt to limit transmission. Which this time around has taken the form of masks, more frequent hand-washing and increased sales of anti-bacterial hand lotions. And now the decision has been made to take it one step further - the French government has advised that people stop shaking hands and doing "la bise" in schools and other public places.

I wasn't really expecting anyone to take this recommandation seriously - after all, la bise and the hand shake are such a part of day-to-day life here. But I was surprised to find that almost all of the customers I visited last week had signs up saying "For your health: No more hand-shaking or bise-ing". It was very interesting to talking to them as well and seeing how people were reacting to it, as this particular ritual is such a major part of French culture. Many were wondering if this is going to be the downfall of the bise? After all, if children were forbidden to bise in the court yard, eventually they would lose the habit. Which in that case we might as all live in Angleterre, where no one ever touches! (Their words, not mine).

I have to admit that it was bizarre even for me - it's so much of a part of my interactions with my clients. I show up and greet them with a firm handshake and then we sit down for business. This time around though, I could tell none of us really knew how to greet the other and it usually made for an awkward beginning. I felt kind of silly just standing there with my hands by my side, like part of our routine had been lost. I kind of hope all this swine flu panic passes soon - all of the fuss is really starting to get old.


Blogger Leah said...

Oh man, if only there had been the swine flu, grippe A extravaganza when I was getting all those good morning bises...that would have seriously been the BONHEUR. I'm thinking(hoping) this all shall pass soon and bise-ing will be back on track in no time.

At my school, we have to shut down if so many kids are sick with certain symptoms. I'm just sayin...if I could get like a week of swine flu vaca, that wouldn't be so bad!

September 21, 2009 at 12:54 AM  
Blogger doomed to be fabulous said...

"Which in that case we might as all live in Angleterre, where no one ever touches!"

Hahaha, so true.

September 21, 2009 at 7:34 AM  
Blogger Crystal said...

oh man, the anti-social part of me loves the no bise/hand-shake rule...I shake more hands that I'd like to realize in a week and I'd be a bitter Betty if I caught the swine flu thanks to the guy in accounting.

I'm also secretly hoping I get a week or two of swine vacay (like Leah) many confirmed cases WOULD constitute shutting down a small financial institution like the BNP? :p

September 21, 2009 at 8:51 AM  
Blogger Justin said...

My company banned it a couple weeks ago ... but we only made it a week and then went right back to shaking hands. I was quite please because it really was too weird when every one of my colleagues would come in the office in the morning and just stand in the doorway and wave at me... :-)

September 21, 2009 at 10:10 AM  
Blogger Katie said...

Where I am, I haven't seen any kind of enforcement of no bises/handshakes. Even at my workplace. I've seen those annoying posters everywhere telling you to wash your hands several times a day and blah blah.
I can't wait until this whole grippe thing has passed! But that might be not so soon though...

September 21, 2009 at 10:14 AM  
Blogger Animesh said...

We got an email which also recommended that we take "private transport". No public transport and no bising?? Why else did I come to France? :P

And for those searching for another greeting, how about a Namaste :)?

That's how we Indians survived a hot and humid climate to get to a billion, must be good for preventing disease spread :).

@crytal: My workplace (INRIA) is planned to go into telecommute mode if the hazard level raises to 6 (it is 5 now).

September 21, 2009 at 10:22 AM  
Blogger L said...

Considering that people still bise when they have a cold and/or are sweaty in gym class, this is serious.

I heard on the tv or radio that if things get really serious in Paris they'll shut down the metro except for something like the 7 most "essential" lines.

September 21, 2009 at 12:03 PM  
Blogger shannon said...

I read an article a week or two ago on this, but I wasn't sure if the French would even consider it. Now I know. I'm curious to see if people in my town will be following this...

September 21, 2009 at 5:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh I'm missing this as I'm in the UK for the week.

I felt well weird at the weekend meeting up with family and friends - I just don't know how to greet anyone anymore! But I resent how us from 'angleterre' don't touch - we hug everyone instead of bising and the French think that is more intimate. I still think it's silly to bise people you don't know just because they've been invited to the same soirée as you. Us brits are consistent - hugs for people we are friends with, a wave for those you kinda know. What's wrong with that?!

I'm loving being back in the UK where the hysteria of swine flu died out weeks ago. I'm a bit worried about coming back to France - I don't want to go through it all again.

September 21, 2009 at 9:23 PM  
Blogger MISS YURI said...

whoa, can't believe i'm saying this, but i'm glad i'm not there for that. it sounds like a ridiculous amount of premature hysteria. of course a bunch of people will get sick! but the vast majority will get better. no point getting panicky about it.

September 22, 2009 at 12:23 AM  
Blogger Ciara said...

I went to the Dr today (in France) and she shook my hand as she always does when I went into the consultation room....surely the professionals need to set the example?!!!

September 22, 2009 at 5:15 PM  
Blogger Pierre said...

I was really astonished when I came ack to France for a few weeks to see how crazy French people went for the swine flu... I'm living in Taiwan and no one gives a shit about it! (well, I've seen a little sign when I had my hair cut two days ago, but that's all)

My cousin's husband told me they stopped bising and handshaking and he was taking that very seriously...

I also remember how weird it was when I came back from a few weeks of work in Australia (where people just say "G'mornin', how's it goin'")to have to go the whole open-space and handshake/bise many people, even those you don't work with! Bo-ri-ng!

So, well, that could be cool in a way!

A last thing about the masks: it's very common to wear a mask here (Taiwan) when you catch a cold or something like that. So I'm not surprised to see many people in the streets wearing masks. In France, that would look really weird I guess!

Anyway, I'm sure we'll sooner or later discover all that was done by some pharmaceutical lobby to sell more masks/gel/tamiflu!

September 23, 2009 at 7:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've wanted to stop watching the news because of the swine flu's beyond irritating, it really, really, REALLY bugs me. I was all smug when in Australia and the first wave of flu came the media went ballistic and France was not talking about it...I thought I'd avoided the mass media hysteria and was living in a place with a responsible media service...nope! it was just being delayed till after summer vacation! Having had a family member get this flu and recover within two weeks really puts it into perspective for you...swine flu is...exactly like the regular flu but with a fancy name.

September 23, 2009 at 8:54 AM  

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