At the end of our rope? Not yet. But you’d think the French version of the expression, ‘at the end of the roll’, would be apt with the recent run on toilet paper and other necessities.
Thankfully we still have a supply of toilet paper to keep us going. No thanks to the hoarders who seem to be as worried about running out here in France as they are elsewhere. Toilet paper and pasta, it appears, are the lusted-for items. A major pasta company, a news report has told us, is running extra shifts to ensure that we have enough spaghetti, penne and lasagne noodles to nourish us through the coronavirus crisis.
I’ve been avoiding the stores since Macron announced the additional measures this week. Partly because I’m by nature someone who hates to run out of things, so I keep a decent supply of stuff at home. Also because I hate to wait and avoid line-ups like the plague (pun intended). And let’s face it: the less we expose ourselves to others, the less chance we have to spread or catch whatever’s out there
But yesterday I needed a few things and besides, I was curious. So I downloaded the form we are now required to have with us at all times, attesting on our honour that we are doing one of five officially authorized activities:
- Going to work, if remote working is not possible
- Shopping for food or other essential items
- Going to a health-related appointment
- Taking care of children, helping a family member or infirm person who requires assistance
- Walking the dog or briefly going outside for exercise close to home
I ticked box number 2, dated and signed it, drove to the village and parked. The convenience store (8 à 8) in our village looked empty until I noticed half a dozen people standing outside. Several were wearing masks. As I got closer I realized that two of them were employees. They were letting people in, one at a time, so that there were never more than two customers inside.
We stood there, spaced out by the regulatory distance on the pavement, not looking at each other and in complete silence except for a couple of small children asking their mother endless questions. We don’t talk to each other much in France.
A man passing by popped his head into the group and asked the shopkeeper if there was any bread left, just in case, so he wouldn’t wait for nothing. The fellow nodded vigorously, bringing out a baguette from just inside and taking a coin there on the street. They seemed to know each other, although I could hardly tell as anything he said was muffled behind the mask. “Merci!” the man called as he left.
“Is the bakery closed?” I asked the person standing next to me. She shrugged, but the other employee, overhearing my question, replied: “Yes, they had to close because they had no staff. Their employee had to stay home and look after her kids.” Ah, I nodded. I’m sure that many of the people in our village are grateful that the little store does ‘dépôt de pain’ in emergency cases like this. Daily bread is truly the traditional staff of life in France.
Then it was my turn. In I went, along with an older woman who seemed to be intensely studying a wall of canned goods. I skirted around her as quickly as I could (the aisles being too narrow to pass while respecting social distancing rules) and got my fruit and veg, along with a pack of sparkling water. Then I went to the cash desk and waited while the other shopkeeper finished whatever she was stocking on one of the aisles. In the meantime, the other lone shopper decided to join me at the checkout, immediately stepping up close behind me.
I turned and, as politely as I could, suggested she kindly respect the one-metre rule. She backed off in a flurry of French that I didn’t understand. I paid for my groceries with a card (contactless) and left.
Today the window cleaner is coming and I will have to go and get cash to pay him as it’s mostly a side gig. The very high windows on our house are simply too much for us, so he comes twice a year and does them all, inside and out. Hugely efficient and well worth it. It’s not clear as to whether this is technically allowed or not. I’ve heard conflicting reports about the confinement law. Seem it’s okay to have childcare and cleaners in your home on one hand; on the other the fellow who maintains our water heater told me they’re only supposed to do emergency work.
But the thing is: people need to eat. The economy needs to keep going. So for now I’m taking a common sense approach. Distance and hand-washing, yes. Total isolation and plague-like behaviour, non.
How are you approaching confinement? Are you running scared or remaining calm, even nonchalant?