“Humans are naturally suffering from so-called skin hunger,” said Gautier Jardon, who conducted the IFOP poll, finding that the proportion of people who still did the bise with strangers had shrunk far more than it did for family members, friends and colleagues.
Greeting each other with a kiss means integrating personal space, said Ms. Boutin, the psychoanalyst. “With the prohibition of physical contact, it is as if we had completely annihilated what we were, as if we did not exist anymore,” she said. “We need human contact, if only to stay alive.”
Disease outbreaks have halted kissing customs before. In the mid-1300s, Europe was struck by the “Black Death,” a plague that killed 25 million to 30 million people, or almost a third of its population.
At the time, the kiss was not a systematic form of greeting, according to Alain Montandon, a philosopher, in his book “Le Baiser.” But it did have significant sociopolitical importance.
“It had the value of a contract or a pact,” Mr. Montandon said.
As summer approached this year, and mask mandates were dropped, some grew restless with the lack of la bise — including, it seemed, Mr. Macron himself, who kissed two World War II veterans on the cheeks in June during a commemorative ceremony. (Mr. Macron was wearing a mask.)
But Pauline Gardet, 24, is hoping Covid will bring the bise era — and its many unwanted kisses — to an end.
“Typically, two days ago, a guy came very close to me, not leaving me any choice but to kiss him,” she said. “I found it very rude — the coronavirus is still there.”