No one would have believed (in my best Richard Burton voice)…that when we moved here nearly 3 years ago, that we would face a situation which is, quite frankly, like no other. I certainly have not seen anything like this in my lifetime.
Unless you really do live in an absolute bubble, then it cannot have escaped your notice that the world is currently at war. Not with each other but with a virus. Coronavirus or Covid19 as the French always refer to it.
So what’s it like to live in Normandy, France at the moment as an immigrant? A British immigrant. Well, as per usual, I’m gonna tell you!
Although it is very clam it is, nevertheless, a little bit surreal. I can’t leave the country as all the borders are now shut (unless essential travel is required eg freight, goods, medical reason etc) for 30 days. The same rules apply to the UK. No great hardship. I do live in Normandy and I can think of worse places to be ‘stuck’ in. Could have done with it being a few hundred yards from the beach mind but hey ho. I don’t think Macron would appreciate any letter of complaint at this stage.
My children are off school and these have been shut for an indefinite period. They are regularly sent work from their teachers which needs to completed and sent back. I did say prior to schools out for….don’t know when..that this was not a holiday. We will be getting up, doing homework and I was now the new teacher. Of course, non of this has exactly panned out quite as I had envisaged but we do have a routine. There are no massive lie ins and school work is getting done. I also showed my teen how to work the washing machine. I feel some practical lessons are long overdue. After I went through every setting, explained sorting whites, delicates, temperatures and how USB sticks, coins etc stop the machine working he replied “so everything goes in on number 8” me “erm pretty much”. After that, I said “right I’m am now going to show you how to work the oven”. He replied “mum we have months off at home let’s not rush this”.
A great facebook group “Mums Space France” (all links will be at the bottom of this post) created a sub group for all home schooling ideas and free resources. This is great but I have found that they have so much normal homework, I have only just started to make time for my “creative learning” plans. I really miss this aspect of UK schooling.
Naturally the students of France are absolutely made up they don’t have to go into school. There was footage on twitter and other platforms of the nation’s students going wild following Macron’s announcement. Go and have a look – these will surely put a smile on your face. Lots of “Je t’aime Macron” and the like were a wash on twitter. Edit – my son has just said all his friends are moaning and saying they are bored. This is day 2 people. Day 2!
Macron addressed the nation last Thursday and again on Monday where we knew that the ‘lock down’ was coming into force as were the border controls. More of him later.
Mr Normandy finished his work for the commune at 12pm yesterday, when the curfew came into place but is on call for any emergencies. He came home wearing his surgical mask as he was on the front line so to speak. We took pictures as it’s not everyday we don face masks and it is still weird seeing people out and about with them on.
Only a few weeks ago, I too, was wearing one but in the Doctors surgery. I had helped a lady in our village who had travelled back from the Philippines via Singapore. She got the all clear but even then it felt a bit like “really?”. Especially as we put them on 1 hour 30 minutes into our appointment. Having said this, the appointment was very difficult for the replacement doctor. I have the utmost admiration for all the Doctors, nurses, pompiers, shop workers and everyone on the front line putting themselves at risk for others the world over. Hats off to you #chapeau.
The measures that are put in place are to protect the most vulnerable as best we can and I think most of the inhabitants in France understand this. Clearly living here in Normandy is not the rest of France (as my French friend who lives in England tells me often!). I get that. Paris and major cities will be different but I can only write about our experience here in the countryside.
We live in a small village of just over 500 inhabitants. It is a picturesque spot, close to beautiful wooded walks and countryside. However, 9 people have tested positive as they had gone on a skiing trip in a highly infected area. Irrespective of that, our neighbouring department – Calvados has one of the highest rates in France. So it really does not matter that we are in the countryside with less people. The virus will travel, although Macron said “it does not have a passport” so it must be stopped. #gp #macron
In our village there is an aged population so they are more at risk than the younger residents. It is a wonderful community where people are cared for and one of the team goes around to check on all the elderly to make sure everyone is okay. We also have 4 nurses that work around the clock and do home visits. Our Doctor also carries out home visits. Only today, I saw the lady carrying out her usual meals on wheels delivery.
Handshakes and bisous (kisses on the cheek) did stop a few days prior to the “lock down”. It was quite amusing to see men elbow bumping each other and laughing. The French are a sociable nation. They love to chat, to greet each other and this aspect is probably harder for them than perhaps other nations that do not have this in their culture. So yarp. Bisous are out. Elbows and waving at each other are in.
From 12pm yesterday, anyone looking to leave their home needed to have a valid reason. There are currently 5 reasons you can tick and no your husband/wife pissing you off is not one of them! They are the following:-
1. To go to work. The work has to be necessary i.e Doctor, Nurse, Shop worker etc. The government has listed what it considers to be essential work. To give you an example, a an appointment to change my daughter’s braces was cancelled, our mobile mechanic cannot work, the guy at the MOT place, the local handyman and so on. The key here is ‘essential’.
2. To go and buy essentials – mainly food. The retail shops are also closed and so is McDonald’s. Who would have thought we’d ever see the day? Not even the drive through is open for business. That goes for restaurants, cafes, swimming pools and cinemas. Again the government lists are on its website what it considers to be essential but basically it is your weekly shop.
3. To go out for health reasons – that would be a doctors appointment, hospital, trip to the pharmacy etc.
4. To go and help someone in need i.e delivering food to an elderly person or going to look after children
5. To briefly go out in close proximity to your home for exercise. This does not include group sports like football. It is to walk your dog or to go for a run.
Prior to the “lock down” I did the weekly shop which may have looked like stock piling but seriously this is what this rabble eat in a week! It so happened that my weekly shop is Tuesday – the same day of the lock down. We had previously stocked up on basics like pasta, rice on the Sunday just in case. There was plenty for everyone and I genuinely don’t feel the shops will run out. In fact, people have already said the shops are empty and lots of parking spaces etc. There are check points manned by police stopping every car to check you have your paperwork (sound familiar?) plus the 38 euro fine for not having this has been increased to 135 euros.
In any event, I arrived at Lidl before it opened and there were about 8 people ahead of me. There was a security guard and only one trolley per person was allowed. Again, most things were there (except the illusive loo roll) but it just looked like a lean day at Lidl. I then headed over to Eleclerc, not so much to over stock up but I figured I won’t be getting out anytime soon, so why not!
I walked in to aisles and aisles of produce and massive 24 packs of loo rolls. I took one and casually made my way around the store. It was busy but no more than my old local Sainsbury’s. The check outs took about 20 mins as there were less staff and the queue snaked along by the cash desks as opposed to down the aisles.
As ever, you had some people (the olds!) trying to act like they didn’t know where the back of the queue was. This lady decided she was having none of it. She firmly told everyone, with a smile, the back of the queue was that way. Bravo that woman! We all had a good chuckle about how they needed to pay her as security.
So that about sums up the practicalities in that everything is on hold. Holidays will invariably be cancelled (we had a week booked in April) as this is for a minimum of “quinze jours” and more than likely to go on for quite some time. Did you know the French say this for 2 weeks?! You know, the 14 days that make up a fortnight. Like what is that all about? Also, say it was Wednesday today (like it is!) and someone says to you “next Thursday”. I would take that as the following Thursday like Next Thursday. They mean tomorrow. I know. You’re welcome. I digress.
Now, where was I. Oh yes, the virus. I do like the news. I always have done. Although it is changing so fast all the time. Prior to the lock down it was disrupting my day (constant breaking news) in that you realise that your routine is going to change. And as my friend said to me she likes to be “on it”. I have a routine, we all have routines and when everything changes it can take a few days to mentally adapt to it. So in a very short period of time i.e a matter of hours. I knew the kids would be off school, daily habits would be changed dramatically, appointments would be cancelled and anything else on that things to do list ie change glasses, dentist for daughter, school concerts, holiday, sending off passport, re-booking the car for its MOT, getting the mechanic to change the tyres – all stopped.
So those first couple of days where events were moving fast – myself and many others did not get a lot done. As news updates and announcements from Macron were regularly changing. Just to be clear, I am not scared about this virus or the uncertainty of the near future i.e it is more than likely to be more than 2 weeks. However, it does need to be taken seriously. I think the annoying thing about everyone saying oh shucks it’s just like the flu is that is clearly isn’t. The flu kills approx 8,000 per year. And invariably they don’t die in hospital – a lot die at home without needing a machine to keep their lungs breathing. This virus appears to severely impact the breathing of the patient.
Flu tends to be the last thing someone, who is going to die in any event due to old age, get. Their immune system is already weak from old age, previous health conditions etc. I don’t recall a panic on beds year on year for the flu virus. This is very different.
My doctor explained it’s not so much the virus itself but the huge demand it puts on the hospitals. As the critical care needed is for life support as it affects the lungs. Currently 931 are in intensive care in the France. That’s a lot of people needing critical care. The knock on effect is people who would ordinarily need critical care for other conditions are likely to die.
Turning to Macron. The Macron as I like to call him. Now many French don’t like him – do they like any President? But us Brits here in France know a leader when we see one. In fact, a French person who doesn’t like him said “I might not like him but he always does what he says he is going to do”. He makes decisions. His address to the nation was impressive on Thursday to announce the closure of schools. His address to the nation on Monday had me wanting to fist pump him. It was decisive, explained the reasons why lock down was necessary, reassured everyone that no business would be out of pocket, lots of financial measures including a ‘solidarity’ fund of 300 billion euros (not loans), freezing bills, mortgage, rent payments, help for parents having to stay at home and for the self employed. He also said we will beat it and there is no need for panic.
I have found Boris Johnson’s whole try not to go to the pub approach and back tracking over a ‘herd’ theory to be wholly inadequate. But then this is not the first time he has let the nation down in spectacular proportions. Macron looked like a leader, a war time leader – he even said on numerous occasions “we are at war”. Boris stole this the following day – not the exact words but you heard it from Macron first. His speech was rousing and inspired confidence that France was doing everything in its power to manage the situation.
If anything the UK should be more prepared than all the other countries as it is slightly behind. And yet, it has been very slow in my opinion, to put measures in place quickly.
Life is going to be very different for the next few months – I will be writing another post shortly to give you some top tips to get you through the lock down.
You have been reading Our Normandy Life!
Links as promised
Government Website For All Info On Coronavirus – you should be able to get all your forms, info on businesses, rules, etc