We find ourselves in unprecedented times but the people of France are finding ways to focus on the positives during the coronavirus lockdown
France is currently on a 15-day lockdown in a bid to halt the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Since the lockdown came into effect at midday on Tuesday 17th March following President Macron’s televised address on the evening of Monday 16th, all “non-essential” spaces have been closed across the country, including restaurants, shops and cafes. Supermarkets, boulangeries and pharmacies remain open for food shopping and medication, and citizens are required to complete an official government form declaring where they are going and why for every outing. The signed self-declaration must be carried at all times and failure to do so will result in a fine of €135 – increased from the €38 originally imposed. So, what’s it like being under lockdown in France and how are people coping?
Limousin-based Laura Harley has been reassured by the French government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. “Life in France may currently seem very difficult from the outside, and of course the recent restrictions on movement are unfamiliar and sometimes confusing,” says Laura, who shares money-saving tips on her blog frugalfrance.com and in her monthly column for Living France magazine. “I am however very grateful for the clarity and regularity of advice and decision making by the French government. I personally feel reassured that this health emergency is being taken very seriously, and that measures are in place to support us all – particularly businesses and independent workers. Knowing that whatever happens, when this ends there will be assistance to return France to the prosperous and welcoming country that I know is morale boosting and helps me to keep perspective in the face of this sudden lifestyle shift.” In her latest blog post, Laura shares some ideas for what to do if you’re currently unable to leave your home due to the lockdown
Like Laura, Julie Savill, who lives in the south-west and is Group Marketing Director of Beaux Villages Immobilier, is focusing on the positives.
“There was an odd sense of relief to go into lockdown and be told what we could and couldn’t do. A real sense of being led – a personal view offered without any political slant, and the authorities have been supportive towards businesses and individuals as we each deal with our own anxiety,” says Julie Savill. The psychology of this is fascinating. We can’t sing to each other from balconies, but we are well connected on social media and this morning our homebound team are having a video coffee morning! No work chat, just a cuppa with the people we normally sit side by side with and a bit of ‘how is it for you’. We are fortunate to have almost universal access to countryside, so foraging is an in ‘thing’. Dandelions, pulmonaria, wild garlic, marigold flowers, morel mushrooms. I wonder why we haven’t done this before. Many of us are busy with our veg plots during this enforced slow down. Not because we think we’ll be having to fend for ourselves for the rest of the year but simply because the work is food for the soul.”
Further north there’s a real sense of people pulling together, says Janine Marsh from her home in Pas-de-Calais. The preparations for the lockdown began several days before when the government cancelled large gatherings and asking us to limit outings. And no bises or handshakes. That was tough, but it very quickly became routine. I wonder if it will change our way of life when we’re back to normal – or maybe we’ll kiss more when it’s over, for the sheer joy,” says Janine, a fellow Living France columnist and editor of The Good Life France. Here in the Seven Valleys there appears to have been total acceptance of the lock down. When I went to my local supermarket and having seen videos online of fighting over loo rolls, I expected the worst. Instead, it was busy, but as normal. We bought just what we needed and so did everyone else. I mentioned to the man serving at the till that this was not what I expected. “We must all play our part,” he said gravely, “this will pass”. I think in the countryside, the staff know us, they will remember how we behaved. It has surprised me how easily my normally rather rebellious French neighbours have accepted the situation. There’s a definite hint of ‘Blitz spirit’ and an undeniable sense of national solidarity and belief that pulling together will help us all.”
Stephen Foley, a member of Living France magazine’s Living in France Facebook group, has been out to the supermarket and pharmacy with the required form. “It was not as bad as I had feared,” he says. “There was no panic buying as far as I could see. People were quieter and more sombre than usual though.”
Other members of the group have been sharing the ways they are filling their time at home, from gardening and planting trees to painting furniture and learning French. Monika Danielak has been enjoying the sun with a book, while Australian documentary maker Angie Davis has taken the opportunity to film a video tour of her self-taught permaculture garden in the south-west and shared it on YouTube.
Meanwhile, English-speaking helpline in France soshelp is assisting expats who may be struggling with the lockdown.