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The Beso-Beso

Shall we kiss it good-bye?

Last November, at a private home pop-up (remember those things?), a dear friend asked me to make a ‘#nobesobeso’ abanico for her holiday gifting. (Yes, I am a fan maker.) She says, after a quick drag on her ciggie, “I am tired of all the chika-chika and just want to keep it simple.  The strength of the language of the fan shall put people to pause.” Sheepishly, she adds, “Naku, este, the world is full of silly, celluloid types that just want to do it for the ‘gram.” Well, I guess she got her wish, and six months later, after a slew of air kisses over the holidays, and teetering to Valentine's Day with their loved ones, the ritual of beso-beso is gone.

Vintage photo of lovers kissing
'Lovers with Leeks', Paris, 1950. | Robert Doisneau

Think of it, and I sure you have lulled yourself to think how many times you have had so much physical contact—from the air kisses after pilates, to the occasional chat at your bank. Oh, not to mention the slew of “left to right events” covered by the glossies and the social arbiters that simply require it.  We are a truly "Beso-Beso Tribe" and I guess these past 60 days, and the lead up to this fraying-at-the-edges lockdown, would be the longest time we’ve gone without some form of non-family skin contact. Now we are pining for it… from the hairstylist, the colorist, and the manicurist for a mani-pedi, too. And most importantly, the colorist!

Don’t get me wrong, we are all cloistered in our Instagrammable flats (or corners of it, since we are hiding all the shopping we have done online), and homes with style that merit a spot on cable or on the digital social pages. And as I say, if you are reading this, you are in a much better space than most. Surrounded by loved ones, “The Great Pause” has allowed us to reflect on family, and yes, channel our inner yogi, baker, hairdresser and domestic diva. That, in between the Zoom parties, puts Meryl Streep's “Ladies Who Lunch” ditty on the Sondheim tribute to shame.

Screen capture from "The Ladies Who Lunch" with Meryl Streep, Christine Baranski, and Audra McDonald (Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim) |

The Filipino is very Latin by nature, and given the Spanish conquest, we have taken much in. We are very tactile people. The tell-all is when an argument comes to an impasse, we just throw ourselves at our combatants with a huge hug and a “sorrrrry”, and that ends it.  Kissing, and touching for that matter, is part of our upbringing—a sign of respect. Remember the Lola or Tita kiss—that peck with a short inhale is  one of the most calming forms of tactile love.  And among groupies, there is the peck on the face, with a big “Hola,” “How are you, you look good, you saw Dr. XXX for a treatment, no?” “What’s up?” or a “ Hey there.”  Then comes our form of religious devotion. Look at Spain and how the outbreak hit them, our adopted Castillian roots with kissing sculptures of the Virgin Mary in the week leading up to Easter. Ironic? And our being Brown Americans, wow, can you imagine just blowing out of a birthday cake?

The gents have it easier as handshakes will be a thing of the past, for most part. Contact sports, bromance hugs in drunken stupor, fist bumps will be left to pot. I can't imagine what a workout at our Crossfit box will be like after a personal record (PR) is set, when gyms are granted to come back to life.

So here we go, extreme distancing could dash hopes of impermanent change. We see friends at the grocery, the bank, the deli, and talk so far apart. As we move to GCQ in the next few months, how do we interact in a way that keeps us safe? So what happens to the lunch or dinner spots?

That isn’t going to happen just yet. Chatting with friends on Zoom, we all agreed—it is just plainly difficult to unlearn a lifetime of social norms so ingrained that show our filial love and affection, and even politeness. I can’t imagine us bowing subtly, saying “Hello, Mam Ser” or perhaps just giving a nod in one’s direction, six feet apart.

Photo of man kissing hand with face mask on
Easing into a 'New Normal' | Photo courtesy of Pexels

So how now, “Beso-Beso Tribe"? In just 60 days we ditched the ingrained habit of the “touchy-feely” kind. The French and the Italians are going to be hit hard by this. The double-air-kiss beloved by the French could be a vector of transmission; the warm embrace of Italians greeting potentially too dangerous. The Filipino style of beso-beso may be an endangered norm—ceasing to be acceptable, and with it, everything we’ve learned about a world normally full of physical contact might change.

I can’t imagine writing and shooting Metro Society feature “Entertaining with Flair" in a dining setting with seats apart, adhering to social distancing etiquette. Come to think, phone photos and self-portraits with the chicest masks may be the norm for a long while. The venues will be homebound, and dinners served, taken out or delivered to your doorstep, sanitized, of course. So much for the “ladies who lunch”, too! Just recently, a well-known food writer asked off-hand if people will go back to sit down dining. I think most share the view that there is the shudder of worry to seeing more people. These 60 days have changed how we remain socially connected. Period.

But the end to the beso-beso and everything it stands for isn’t new. In fact, Henry the VI banned kissing in an effort to quell the bubonic plague. God, how did the titos and titas back then cope without social media? So like all things, there is hope that we could get our lives back. Far edited, more purposeful, and definitely more real. Remember; the bubonic plague spurned the beginning of a Renaissance. (Admittedly, at times, I can be hopelessly optimistic.)

With General Community Quarantine (GCQ) in the offing, chatting with a lot of friends, it seems that the social whirl will begin in bubbles. Families will get together in homes, still being extra careful. And with test kits coming down in price moving ahead, things become more fluid. Then comes friends having lunches in homes that are equipped with the rigors of safety, much like now, with foot baths, perhaps a new fashion norm of the PPE coat, and lots of Purell or alcohol. Our circle of friends tighter, and more sensible. The more socially-upward Filipino will find a way. We will define our bubbles.

Photo of hands and hand sanitizers
New Normal with lots of Purell or alcohol | Pexels

But before we mourn the beso-beso, or cheekily say kiss it goodbye, let’s think how much more it will mean when we have it. The choice of person to share it with shows how safe you feel. And the long abrazos will have so much more weight and meaning, when that day finally arrives.

So, as to the fan, I had been asked to reissue it since a fan in this heat is needed. I couldn’t do it. It simply was not appropriate. But, who knows in time? For now, let us relish the time we have with the family, imbuing a sense of purpose. Wearing a mask reminds us that despite the gag order as it plays out, we may not be able to get the air kiss, but we remain even closer. The "Beso-Beso Tribes" will get smaller, and perhaps, become closer. It is in these times that you realize what matters... And I close this essay with my hand open, and send a kiss in the air for a wonderful day ahead.