Public Management

The End of Social Conventions? By Victor Oladokun

Thursday, 05 March 2020 10:24
The End of Social Conventions? By Victor Oladokun

(Ecofin Agency) - For weeks, investors and the business community have been rattled by massive disruptions to global supply chains, as factories shut down in China. Everyone from BMW and Mercedes to Apple are feeling the squeeze on account of the coronavirus.

But economies and businesses are not the only ones dealing with disruption.

Social conventions are adjusting in unprecedented ways.

Yesterday, Italy shut down ALL schools and contemplated banning kissing in an attempt to thwart the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. The kissing ban may not be necessary. Italians are already voting with their feet and keeping their cheeks at a very safe distance from friends, family members and others.

But Italy is not alone.

In France, where "La bise" is an age old ritual, kissing friends has always been a rather complicated affair, especially for uninitiated foreigners. Rather than shaking hands, waving hello or hugging, you simply lean forward, touch cheeks and kiss the air while making a sound with your lips.

Friends in France tell me that 'La bise’ could soon go the way of the dodo if the virus known as COVID19 remains unrelenting.

Here in Abidjan in Côte d'Ivoire, as in many other parts of the world, social conventions are rapidly changing. Unlike the French double blise, Ivorienes, conduct a rapid triple kiss. But they too have become extremely economical with their cheek and air kisses.

At the African Development Bank, where we have rapidly put a a coronavirus contingency plan in place, kisses and handshakes are quickly giving way to fist and elbow bumps, or to no contact at all. Many understandably prefer an adoring "keep your hands to yourself" stance.

Across town, it is not uncommon to see men and women now tap their feet rather than touch cheeks or shake hands. What first started out a few weeks ago as a comedic viral video in Asia, has since mushroomed into a full blown practice in some communities.

I've already been offered the foot of friendship’ several times, so I can testify.

Last night, I was having dinner with a colleague at IndianByNature, a lovely restaurant off of Boulevard de Marseille in the Marcory district that is a favourite hangout for many in the expatriate community.

Three things struck me.

One, very visible neon yellow alcoholic hand sanitizers were on full display all around the restaurant. You couldn't miss them.

Second, everyone ... waiters, chefs, and owners kept their hands and cheeks to themselves.

And third, it would seem that the hand-clasped Hindi 'Namaste' greeting could soon become a globally preferred and much safer social norm, in a world battling with a pandemic that has already spooked the media and business world for good reason.

Social conventions have always been arcane arbitrary rules and norms that govern behaviours from kissing, hugging, shaking hands, to bowing. In age of increasing pandemics, it would seem that old conventions are quickly giving way to the new and the not so new.

For now, stay safe and Namatse!

Dr Victor Oladokun, is the Director of Communication and External Relations, African Development Bank

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