Category Archives: society

No kisses and handshakes, declaration needed

Last March 11 at 10 AM in the middle of the coronavirus crisis, I witnessed an irresponsible act, which at other times would have been normal or even impolite not to do so in France. On the bus for work, a middle-aged man showed his monthly ticket to the driver, leaned to the woman sitting on the front and gave her two kisses on the cheek. (In France, depending where you are, kisses can be two, three or four). That same day, I heard on the news that the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Since then there have been measures to combat its spread, such as lockdown, quarantine, testing, self-isolation and social distancing.

A week before the mandatory social distancing, business premises where I worked had already “no handshake” signs. If handshake was discouraged, obviously “kisses” too. It’s so obvious that they didn’t think there would be a need for “no kisses” signs, but there should have been because, pre-coronavirus pandemic, kissing was a form of greeting in many European workplaces, particularly in France.   

We’ve all experienced the “accidental” handshakes, hugs or cheek kisses during these times of the coronavirus.  Politicians, such as the US President Donald Trump, were seen shaking hands with several people during their press conferences and hospital visits. Mr Trump was reported to have said, “People come up to me, they shake hands, they put their hand out. It’s sort of a natural reflex, and we’re all getting out of it. All of us have that problem.”  ( There’s no excuse for social irresponsibility.

You have heard a lot how this virus originated in Wuhan, China last December, its victims, preventive measures, challenges for governments and health practitioners, etc… We have been advised to sanitise as often as possible, especially after touching money bills, guard or hand rails or light switches or lift buttons or anything that is touched by others in public places; no wonder supermarket and pharmacy shelves are still devoid of these products. Even alcohol bottles aren’t easy to find. We’re discouraged from stockpiling, but I bought enough supply of vinegar to last us for a year.  There is ample advice online on how to make the most of our time at home, from having a fitness routine to reading a book. I have opted to write a novel, and I am halfway through it . In France, we’ve to carry a declaration when we go out; the on-the-spot fine is 200 euros per violation.

Due to social distancing, almost all public gatherings have been cancelled. Why are elections being held during this pandemic? Why haven’t these been postponed? The March 15 city mayoral election in France was odd and a bit entertaining. Citizens had to hand sanitise before and after voting, then volunteers disinfected every pen used; there was a television crew filming them. Australia and the USA also had elections last March.

At home, space distancing (recommended 1.5 M) wasn’t easy, so we’d imposed time distancing instead. We ate at different times; after a while, however, we decided to space out the chairs and have meals together.  This pandemic has changed our individual habits, cultural ways, travel decisions, holiday preferences, etc.

My students found elbow or/and foot bumping fun as a replacement for handshake. I wonder if they’ll continue to do this when we resume classes (I don’t know when!). The majority of language teachers for adults are freelancers, i.e. they get paid when they work. So, you can imagine what this pandemic has done to our livelihood and the financial burden it has caused us.

Even in this gloomy situation, let’s practise patience, creativity, compassion, altruism across space and time. Even with time and social distances, we can still reach out, help and support each other in coping with all sorts of difficulties. 

If you fancy contributing to coronavirus research without leaving your home, read the March 27, 2020 issue of The Conversation

If you have a special skill, give lessons free of charge, e.g., meditation, yoga, music, cooking, gymnastic, aerobics and sewing via Skype, WhatsApp or Facetime.

Call, text or email relatives and friends regularly to show that you care for them. According to Dr C Singer, “human beings are social animals and our biological, psychological, and social systems evolved to thrive in collaborative networks of people. Some studies suggest that the impact of isolation and loneliness on health and mortality are of the same order of magnitude as such risk factors as high blood pressure, obesity, and smoking”. If you want to know more, check his and his colleagues’ research findings regarding the health effects of social isolation and loneliness on

Let’s stay safe, healthy, patient, considerate, optimistic and responsible. We’re all in the same boat!  Worldwide statistics on infections and deaths continue to rise. (COVID-19 death rate in countries with confirmed deaths and over 1,000 reported cases as of March 31, 2020 by country

Take care.

Free and agreeable public transport

All buses, trains and trams are free in Luxembourg starting today, 1 March 2020!   As far as I know, it is the only country in the world that has free public transport.  It has slightly over 600,000 inhabitants in an area of 2,586 square kilometres. However, about 200,000 people living in France, Belgium and Germany cross the borders every day to work there; and I am one of them.

While the Luxembourgish government saves on the collection of fares and the policing of valid tickets, I have extra euros in my pocket (I only have to pay up to the border as required by the French government). Hat’s off to those who contributed to such environmentally-friendly decision (less private vehicles on the road). Of course, there are nayers to free public transport, and their reasons include the possibility of degradation of the property and condition of travelling due to rowdy people who are unlikely to be in paid transportation.

During the daily commute by bus from France to Luxembourg and back, it is always the same scenario. Some passengers who get into the bus first, occupy two seats: one for their body and the other for their belongings (e.g., bags, coats, etc.). In the beginning, I thought it was fun observing people walking up and down the aisles trying to find friendly faces to ask for seats. These days, I find this annoying and believe that if passengers want to occupy two seats, they should pay for two tickets and put a note on an unoccupied one with something like “I’ve paid for this seat because I can’t be bothered by your smell, telephone conversations, or light/image from your online activity,” or simply “I don’t like being close with another human being”.  

This morning, I took a double-decker bus and decided to be on the second level.  I had my work and lunch bags and jacket on a vacant seat next to the one I was occupying. There were three stops before I got off, so there were several people going up and down eyeing for seats.  As usual, when new passengers came in, I transferred my belongings to my lap.  It was only 7:30 AM, so the bus was not crowded and there two seats per person for the majority of us.  As expected, I had to carry a load of computer, books and lunch bag on my lap for more than one hour. Why did I have that discomfort and inconvenience when the women in front, behind and to my right had their small shoulder bags neatly rested on the vacant seats.  Honestly, I was hoping no one would see the empty seat next to me.  Why did I take my things away, which was surely interpreted as an invitation to sit? I also prefer to have two seats, like other passengers; however, my sense of courtesy and empathy are ahead of it.

Meanwhile, one of my fellow female passengers has become a friend. After saying “merci” (thank you in French), she added that the others pretended she was invisible and was pleased when she saw me smiling, as she knew instantly that she did not have to “beg” for a seat. Last December, she came to our house with her 17-year-old son for tea, and we enjoyed eating the home-made “Bredele au beurre” Christmas biscuits they brought.

Two of DH News Vancouver’s (Canada) 25 Public Transit Etiquettes ( are: “8. One seat per person is common etiquette, especially during peak hours and when the seats inside the vehicle are almost completely occupied; 9. Seats are for your bottoms only: keep your dirty shoes away from the seats – do not rest your feet on a seat.” We should have these etiquettes written on all public transports.

Enforcing civility in cinemas

In December 2019, I went to the cinema in Luxembourg where movies/films are screened in original versions and subtitled in French and/or German.  There was still full lighting when I got in, so it was easy to find my allocated seat; but there was already someone on it. I showed politely my G8 ticket to a man in his 50s; to my surprise, he stared at me and said in English, “Is it really important” (it sounded as a cynical remark rather than a question). Yet, I responded politely — “it should be otherwise there would not be such a policy and the cinema attendant would not have asked me where I wanted to sit”.  The woman next to him held his hand and leaned her heard on his shoulder. I looked at the vacant seat next to him and suggested I could sit there if he removed his belongings (i. e. expensive-looking coat and hat).  He shook his head and commented “It’s idiot”. Luckily, it was “It’s” because I do not usually let unreasonable, insensitive statements go by unchallenged.

If they did not move, what would have happened? I like the idea of fairness, justice and respecting policies and regulations; so, I would have gone out and complained to the staff spoiling my and their cinema outing.  Is seat allocation in the cinema necessary? If yes, why is there no staff to enforce it? It is quite embarrassing to deal with “it’s my seat” situation. 

My personality favours seat allocation, however, I know that others are happy to sit where there is space.   As a movie enthusiast, I always go to the cinema during its first week of showing.   I enjoy choosing a seat that is in the middle of the room where I get most of the visual and audio features; as well, it ensures that my companion/s and I sit together. When there is no seat allocation, it is “First come, first serve”, which is alright when the cinema is only half full.

When there is no shortage of empty place, seat allocation becomes unnecessary. Thus, should there be a seat allocation only for sold out films? I am not sure about this because there are other intervening factors, such as time of the showing (e.g., 10 am session often attracts less people) and the length of time the film has been in the cinema.

The principle behind seat allocation is sound when there is someone who enforces it (as in theatres and concerts with ushers).  It does not work when people do not sit in their allocated seats and there is no one who ensures that this is respected. It becomes even more complicated when those who sit in the wrong seats refuse to move.

For me, going to the cinema is a leisure activity and watching a good movie (particularly those based on true stories) is a form of relaxation. Unfortunately, this was not the case last December.  What are the explanations to his behaviour and comments? Perhaps he always gets what he wants disrespecting other people (environment plays an important role in this: family/upbringing, education, etc). Maybe he is a manager and used to bossing people around and dislikes being told what to do. Though I was the one who asked him to change seat, I felt intimidated and uncomfortable. Consequently, it ruined my afternoon of lone cinema treat before the busy holiday period of cooking, tidying up, entertaining and visiting Christmas markets. Are you for or against seat allocation? Have you been asked to move or vacate a seat? Have you taken someone else’s seat by mistake or deliberately?