Three Cheers for Social Distancing

A few weeks ago, Enrico Barberis Negra was unwinding with a glass of prosecco in his apartment outside of Milan. It was shortly after the government had imposed a lockdown in northern Italy, and he was adjusting to life indoors and alone.

Early in the evening, he went to the bathroom and left his drink behind. When he returned to retrieve it, he decided to toast himself. It had been a hard day, and this was his way of lifting his spirits.

“I looked in the mirror, I smiled, and said, ‘Cin cin, Enrico!’” Mr. Barberis Negra, 30, said in a phone interview on Thursday. “I started to laugh on my own, and I said, ‘OK, maybe I can try to make a video.’”

Dressed in his pajamas and armed with his glittering gold cellphone, he recorded a short video of himself raising a glass to his own reflection.

“Cin cin,” he exclaimed, a common toast in Italian. “Thank you for coming!”

In recording his party for one, Mr. Barberis Negra created what has become one of the more uplifting social-isolation memes of the coronavirus outbreak.

Since he posted the clip to Facebook two weeks ago, it has racked up millions of views and ricocheted across social media.

The video has been shared by celebrities including Naomi Campbell, Chrissy Teigen, Ellen DeGeneres, Padma Lakshmi and Khloé Kardashian. When Kristen Bell posted it to her Instagram feed, she called Mr. Barberis Negra “obviously the funniest guy in the world.”

Other viewers were similarly elated.

For Mr. Barberis Negra, the experience of being thrust into the online spotlight has been surreal. He works as a flight attendant and is not active on many social media platforms. In fact, he deactivated his Instagram account last year. Only when his own video started doing the rounds did he reinstall the app on his phone.

“I come from another kind of world, nothing connected with social media,” he said.

When he made the video, he did so with the sole intention of making his friends laugh. He didn’t anticipate that his impromptu performance would strike a chord with the masses or lead to a deluge of friend requests and messages.

He said the video reflected the national mood in Italy, which was one of hope and resilience. “It was a hard moment but we tried to smile, continue on and believe it would be fine one day,” he said.

The surprise success of the video has served as a welcome distraction from everything going on around him. Like many living in the Lombardy region, Mr. Barberis Negra knows of people who have been hospitalized with the virus and worries for the well-being of his loved ones.

He is also grappling with the realities of living alone during a period of enforced isolation. His boyfriend lives in Israel, and he does not know when they will be reunited. Furthermore, he cannot see family and friends. The last time he saw his mother, he said, they drank coffee while sitting at two separate tables. He misses human contact.

“Obviously I see neighbors from the window on the balconies, but you don’t have anyone to touch or shake hands with or hug,” he said. “This is the thing I miss most.”

That his video has brought joy to others living in isolation around the world has been comforting.

“I was talking with a friend last week, and I was a bit worried,” Mr. Barberis Negra said. “I was thinking about the situation in Italy. But then I was going to sleep and I was thinking, ‘At least I made part of the world laugh in this moment.’”

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