PARIS - It’s a ubiquitous French tradition, as familiar as a baguette or an espresso at the neighborhood cafe. Now, “la bise,’’ the cheek-to-cheek peck that the French use to say hello or goodbye, has come under pressure from a globalized threat: swine flu.
Some French schools, companies, and a Health Ministry hot line 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.
Mainland France has so far only counted three swine flu deaths.
Yet, across France, authorities and school officials are taking few chances - while trying to avoid stirring panic.
In recent months, a few schools in France have been temporarily shut after cases of swine flu emerged.
For children in two schools in the town of Guilvinec, in France’s western Brittany region, the first lesson of the year came from local officials: no more cheek kisses to teachers or other students.
Many in France see a threat to cherished customs.
“Swine flu has already changed our life,’’ read the headline of an article in yesterday’s Le Parisien about the bise.