The pandemic is raging on in France. News outlets remind us of the grim situation. Confirmed cases are higher than they should be, a third lockdown is looming, and vaccinations are delayed. The death count is high, and the number of beds available in hospitals is decreasing. Each day, we are required to be in our homes by 6:00 pm. And then we are expected to stay there for the next twelve hours. Although we have already spent most of the previous twelve hours in our apartment as we both work from home. In the 340 days we have lived in France, we have been under lockdown, curfew, or a combination of both more than half the time.
France introduced the 6:00 pm curfew on January 17 to combat friends gathering for the ever-popular aperitif, or apéro for short. The French love to socialize with others and partake in an apéro hour to spend time with friends. Apéro hour typically takes place after work, right about at 6:00 pm. It’s a time to have a drink with friends and a light snack before dinner, usually olives or nuts. But the French government believed squeezing forward our 8:00 pm curfew two hours would eliminate this cultural norm and decrease the number of daily cases.
News flash: we are two weeks into our new curfew, and they announced it is not working.
From an outsider’s perspective, did they think it was going to work, to begin with? I don’t think most French have a daily apéro high on their list right now. More importantly, the priority is getting to and from the grocery store after work under an hour. While the French government tried to cut off one gathering avenue, they unknowingly created another. The grocery store between 5:00 pm – 6:00 pm is a madhouse. Customers are scrambling to get everything on their list and get home within under an hour. Stores are congested with people passing by closely in the aisles. Check out lines become longer the closer it gets to 6:00 pm. But it’s absolutely the apéro hour that’s the problem.
So, what’s next?
While the French residents are resilient, they are weary. I recently read a statistic that around 85% approved the first lockdown and 60% approved the second lockdown (that feels like it still hasn’t ended). Less than 40% approve of France moving back to a third lockdown. Yet, that is what we are threatened with daily by the French government.
We fully expected President Macron to announce that we would be starting the third lockdown this weekend. Although our daily cases are 30,000 less and intensive care hospital beds 40% less than when we entered our second lockdown in October, all signs pointed to this route. Health officials reported that France lifted the second lockdown too early, and now we are suffering. But surprisingly, Macron delayed the third lockdown. He went against all scientists and health experts urging him that it was the only way. For now, we can sigh for a moment of relief.
I believe the reasons Macron delayed the lockdown to be two-fold. First, the economy is suffering. Theatres don’t know when they will be able to raise the red curtain for a show. Bars locked their doors, not knowing the next time they would be open to customers. Restaurant tables remain empty, their empty rooms echoing with the silence. And resistance is growing as the virus continues to attack the owner’s livelihood. A restaurant owner opened its doors this week to customers in defiance of the situation. The tables were full of people sitting down and enjoying a meal in a restaurant. Police arrested him shortly after. A new movement is growing in France between restaurant owners to open tomorrow, February 1, in defiance.
One of the restaurants near our house in Lyon is beginning to blur the lines on what takeaway means. Restaurants have been able to stay open for takeaway only during this time if they can adapt. It’s been great for us to use UberEats or Deliveroo a couple of times a week to switch up the monotony of cooking, but we would prefer to eat at a restaurant. The restaurant near our house has indoor and outdoor seating. We expected both to be empty right now. But when we go on our daily walks, a handful of people sit at the tables outside the restaurant eating from their takeaway boxes. Not only do they have their takeaway boxes, but they also have a glass of wine in hand. Is this really takeaway if the wine is in a real glass? And how can I get in on this?
The second reason I optimistically would like to think Macron considered was France’s citizens and residents’ well-being. Mental health and the long-term effects of lockdowns are finally starting to become part of the conversation. It’s been tough to watch Lyon’s news as we read about student after student who is hurting and try to end their life. Can the French survive the third lockdown? The virus has taken away their spirit and livelihood. Even with a vaccine, it does not feel like an end is in sight.
New restrictions have spared us for now. However, we understand a third lockdown is inevitable. I have my hesitations on if it is worth it to stay in France. It’s hard not to think this when we scroll through social media and see people at home living everyday lives by going to restaurants or parties. Our lives are not normal right now, and at times it is suffocating. Our lunchtime walk outside every day starts to feel like a punishment because we don’t even have the opportunity to go after work if we wanted. It’s a walk at noon or no walk at all. So if we’re going to leave our apartment during the week, a walk it is!
We are continuing to find the silver lining in our day to day, but sometimes we just want to yell, “Ça suffit. C’est nul!” We will continue to live with the curfew in France but will push its limits. Today, we made it home with only a few minutes to spare!