Could Covid make the French kiss goodbye to workplace 'bise'?

'It is possible that 'la bise' or handshakes will disappear from the workplace, because they are both practices that are more recent in our history'

6 July 2021

'The pandemic could be seen as accelerating changes that were already there under the surface' says Dr Parise, who specialises in lifestyle trends and has been studying effects of Covid restrictions Pic: Krakenimages.com / Shutterstock

Exchanging a kiss on the cheek at work may be one habit that is killed off by the Covid pandemic, says French anthropologist Fanny Parise.

Dr Parise specialises in lifestyle trends and has been studying effects of Covid restrictions since March last year. She sent questionnaires to 6,000 people and interviewed more than 60 in France and Switzerland.

She said the pandemic could be seen as accelerating changes that were already there under the surface – for example, those who had been thinking of a career change or moving out of the city, or adopting a greener lifestyle might have been encouraged to do so by factors such as enforced homeworking.

In other cases, changes to routines may simply stick because they have become habitual, such as shopping locally, cycling to work or working from home.

There is also a tendency to adopt positive resolutions in times of stress as a way of reassuring ourselves, she said.

Some will go back to old habits but this will vary and partly depend on their motivation to make changes in their lives.

A more negative influence that may last from Covid is a rise in individualism and polarisation in society, especially for people who already had difficulties interacting socially.

“As we are digitalising a lot of our exchanges, it could isolate a lot of individuals and reduce their social contact even further,” Dr Parise said.

There could also be an increase in psychological repercussions related to job loss, health issues and fear of the future, she said.

Many changes could also take place to the world of work and people’s relationship to their surroundings and workplaces.

For example, people who are working from home will reflect more on where they are living and whether it has all the amenities they need.

It could also mean that those without good computing or technical skills will find it harder to obtain work.

It is hard to say whether ‘barrier gestures’, such as mask-wearing and distancing, will continue, she said.

“However, we can say with some certainty that practices like shaking hands, la bise and wearing masks are going to change dependent on situation.

“It is possible that la bise or handshakes will disappear from the workplace, because they are both practices that are more recent in our history. On the other hand, with our family or close friends, we may do la bise more to make up for lost time.”

We may imagine that the world in 50 years could have taken two different trajectories due to Covid, though the reality may not be as extreme as either. In one scenario, people have totally embraced new technologies and are living digitally, and another where people have chosen to live a more simple way of life. In the first situation, everything that we have learned to do digitally during the pandemic at home will increase.

Some people could end up doing everything online from home, including having romantic relationships, working, and interacting with friends and family. If so, it will be because Covid allowed us to realise that this was possible.

In the second scenario, we can imagine a situation where it is difficult for people to travel due to restrictions and so they have created a more localised lifestyle that takes place within their own neighbourhood and where they get around only on foot or by bike.

We could say then that it was Covid that made us rethink how we travel and how we value local production, she said.

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Non! We French shouldn't have to kiss everyone we meet

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