The double-cheeked embrace that was a customary greeting in France before being largely abandoned during the pandemic is back with a presidential seal of approval. French President Emmanuel Macron made the return of “la bise” all but official Friday by giving cheek-to-cheek embraces to two World War II veterans at an award ceremony, per the AP. The French leader wore a face mask, while the veterans—Leon Gautier, 98, and Rene Crignola, 99— did not. But both seemed comfortable, and reciprocated, as Macron reached in and put his cheeks to theirs. The gesture became frowned upon as COVID-19 infections ravaged France, which counts 110,000 dead from the disease.
With 60% of France's adults now having had at least one jab, embracing family and friends again has been one of the joys of vaccination for those who are quickly falling back into the habit. But others are clinging to the hope that such embraces don't come fully back, particularly in workplaces. Even before the pandemic, “la bise” was a source of division. Having to do rounds of kisses with colleagues was regarded as an awkward and tedious chore by some, a pleasant, relationship-affirming exercise by others. Either way, Macron's embraces for the veterans as he awarded them the Legion of Honor, the country's highest award, marked another step toward France feeling like its former self again. (And it surely beats getting slapped in the face.)