Au bout du rouleau

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:

  1. Going to work, if remote working is not possible
  2. Shopping for food or other essential items
  3. Going to a health-related appointment
  4. Taking care of children, helping a family member or infirm person who requires assistance
  5. 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?


  1. margaret21 · March 19, 2020

    It’s not easy to remain nonchalant. But I’m glad that we are still allowed out – encouraged even – to walk for exercise. I’ve go mad otherwise. Look after yourselves. House sale on hold? My daughter and partner had been house hunting in Barcelona. That’s all had to stop.

    • MELewis · March 19, 2020

      Agree, and I’m grateful for being in the country. It’s hard to imagine how it must be for people in cities. I’ve seen a lost of people out with masks although not sure where they’re getting them — we’re supposed to leave them for the ill or medical professionals. The house hunting is on hold for sure, like for your daughter (Spain I hear is even worse!). As for the sale we’ll see if any of prospects follows up but I imagine it will all grind to a halt for the interim. The best laid plans!

  2. pedmar10 · March 19, 2020

    I have been to supers here no problems plenty of stock and going out now again; the worse is in the Paris area and the US where stores are clean literally!! Keep safe, cheers

    • MELewis · March 19, 2020

      Thanks! The fresh food section in our local shop was pretty well cleaned out but everything else was normal. People seem to panic needlessly everywhere and I guess it’s worse in Paris where so many people live so close together. Stay well!

      • pedmar10 · March 19, 2020

        wow, just came back from my local super U and it was fine. people respecting the one meter distance and took my father with a mask. All ok here, wishing best for you there. cheers

  3. francetaste · March 19, 2020

    I was impressed by how polite and patient people were at the supermarket on Monday. Shopping carts not piled high, either. Like people were getting just what they needed. We now have food for two or three weeks, possibly more.
    I heard from a friend who’s a radiologist here that the hospital is getting a wave of very sick people and that things are grim. The situation isn’t to be taken lightly. We have to avoid the virus until a vaccine can be developed. I am thankful to have been vaccinated against the flu; at least I haven’t gotten sick from that despite being exposed for a couple of days to someone with a bad case who never covered her mouth nor washed her hands after blowing her nose.
    The big question, as you note, is how to pay the bills? Will the Internet and phone and electricity and water be shut off? Is there some official form to ask for a delay of payment?
    I also wonder about laundry. Our broken machine hasn’t been fixed (too expensive), and I don’t want to go to a laundromat (expensive and … germs). I’ve been doing laundry at our now-empty AirBnBs. Will I be allowed to continue? They are, in principle, uncontaminated areas, since nobody but me has been in them for weeks. Much safer than a laundromat, even though I’d have to drive to town (and my car has carried nobody but my immediate family–also safer than any alternatives).

    • MELewis · March 19, 2020

      They are calling for more stringent restrictions to be put in place with the ‘Etat d’urgence sanitaire’ currently being voted on, but it’s unclear (at least to me) what that would imply for the average citizen. The problem is that in big cities like Paris and Marseille, people are still not taking the crisis seriously and continue to congregate outdoors. So they may be obliged to make the rules more Draconian for everyone in order to control the few. Glad you are well and have supplies in — the laundry thing is annoying but I imagine no reason to prevent you doing it at a neighbouring property. Fingers crossed!

  4. Ally Bean · March 19, 2020

    I’m approaching this situation cautiously, but like you I usually have a bit of stock on hand for all contingencies so I am able to go out to the grocery store and quickly get what I need to replenish– not dawdle to buy two shopping carts full of items. We’re able to move freely around our community, but people are keeping their distance. The weather has been gray for so long that even a little bit of sunshine outside would do wonders to lift people’s spirits.

    • MELewis · March 19, 2020

      Our silver lining at the moment is beautiful spring weather — which makes it hard for the normally social to say inside! Hope you get some sunshine soon!

  5. Katherine Wikoff · March 19, 2020

    Here in the US the new social-distancing rule is six feet, or appropriately two meters. Stores are rationing toilet paper and cold/flu medicine, but so far they seem to be doing okay keeping items in stock. We are seeing limited hours at supermarkets and pharmacies, as they need more time to restock and clean overnight. I teach at a university, and we have moved everything online. Bars and restaurants are closed, although you can get takeout, which many of us are doing, even if we rarely eat out, just to help support the businesses. Gyms are closed, as are shopping malls. Hair appointments have been cancelled. We’re going to start seeing lots of gray roots soon, which we hope everyone will view as a sign that we are practicing our moral and patriotic duty😂

    • Katherine Wikoff · March 19, 2020

      I should have added that I live in Wisconsin. I understand things are far more dire on the coasts.

    • MELewis · March 19, 2020

      Ah, me too for the hair appointments. My highlights need doing so I hope it won’t be too long! But glad to hear that people are doing the right thing on both sides of the Atlantic.

  6. Dale · March 19, 2020

    I just got back from vacation so I am officially quarantined until Monday, 23rd. Only then will I venture to the store to get essentials. I’m being particularly creative in the kitchen (actually, slowly running out of stuff like garlic (gasp!), veggies and bread so, hopefully, can stretch it out til then). My sons have each gone to one store despite my reminding them they should not. They assured me they kept their distance and the shop owner was wearing gloves handling their purchase so…
    I do get out to walk and it’s just the weirdest thing to see all these cars parked in their driveways and families strolling the streets – like a Sunday – but on Tuesday, Wednesday, etc.

    And talk about choosing the perfect French expression for these times! 😉

    • MELewis · March 20, 2020

      Glad you enjoyed my little joke! It is surreal, and oddly for me seeing all those quietly parked cars is confusing. I normally work from my home office anyway, but at the moment every day feels like Sunday. Glad you were able to enjoy a vacation before all this madness started. Sounds like you’re making the most of your quarantine!

      • Dale · March 20, 2020

        I did indeed. It is so surreal. And it’s not a bad thing for every day to feel like Sunday!
        We are truly grateful we managed to go on our vacation and that at this point none of us seem to have this virus so yeah we are making the most of our quarantaine

  7. roughwighting · March 19, 2020

    Thanks for bringing us to your town and writing so beautifully that we can “see” what it’s like there. I had never heard of a form like you all are supposed to have with you. I joined a friend (outside of Boston) for an hour and a half walk yesterday. We stayed 3-4 feet away from each other, but the sun had finally come out and it was higher than 40 degrees, so we HAD to get some fresh air and exercise. A lot of young families were out – kids need outside time – but they all stayed respectively away from other. Everything is closed here – schools, gyms, stores etc. Take care!

    • MELewis · March 20, 2020

      Thank YOU for sharing your experiences outre-Atlantique! Sounds like you are self-isolating sensibly without the need for silly laws like ours. Here we are not supposed to go further than 500 metres from our domicile and only singly — not in groups or even pairs. Of course there are few police around here to stop us but I saw a news report of people being told to leave a beach where they were happily enjoying the sun, all alone. 🙄

      • roughwighting · March 20, 2020

        That does seem overdone; however, then there are the 18-year-old band of partiers (hundreds of them) rollicking on the FL beaches like only they matter. THAT beach should have been closed!

  8. midihideaways · March 19, 2020

    It does feel somewhat surreal in our village – I can hear people talking outside in the street and there are cars driving by, but when I look out there seems to be nobody there! Pretty much all of the food-related shops are doing business as usual, apart from the restrictions on how many people can be inside. I usually keep a good stock of dry goods in my store cupboard, and since I don’t eat pasta any more I’m not worried by that shortage! 🙂 Our weekly markets seem to be continuing, albeit with only food stalls. Some people still find it hard to keep a distance and I wonder if they ever watch any TV?? The eight o’clock news seems to be about covid and nothing else!! Perhaps they are persuaded that this is all part of a conspiracy theory??
    As for staying at home, there’s so much I can do to keep myself occupied!! I think by the end of the confinement the house will be sparkling!! 🙂
    Stay safe and healthy!!

    • MELewis · March 20, 2020

      A clean house is one upside of staying in! Unfortunately with my 4 pets and one husband, it will be a losing battle! 😂 But I intend to a spring clean of my wardrobe and pack away the winter gear this weekend. I feel like the TV news draws me into its spell but is very anxiety-provoking. Small doses! Stay well down south…

      • midihideaways · March 21, 2020

        I have watched the 8 o’clock news three times since Monday, and each time I have come away with a sense of dread. Actually, tonight wasn’t too bad and it put some things in perspective. But still, I try and keep out of the way of other people – working in the garden is a good way of getting exercise and being productive! The potatoes are planted!! 🙂

  9. kairosia · March 19, 2020

    Although we’re on the west coast, stats for virus cases in our immediate vicinity are low. That is changing rapidly with ramped up testing. Our weather, too, has been beautiful so that people are out walking in open areas in the hills, along the river, and such. We lift a hand and nod to one another as we pass, allowing a broad a 6 to 10 foot berth between us.

    We have not bought groceries since Monday the 9th, but we’re going to need milk, eggs, and produce soon. We have a good regional store not far from us that will open 7-8 a.m. Tuesdays and Fridays for people over 60 only. My plan is to dash in tomorrow first thing for our goods and then come home and shower, soaping up liberally. All good wishes for you and your family’s health and safety in these frightening times.

    • MELewis · March 20, 2020

      Sounds like a smart plan! It’s funny that the ‘safe’ distance in North America is 6 feet while here in Europe it’s one metre. Something screwy in that calculation… 🧐 They are talking about introducing an earlier reserved shopping time for seniors but so far it’s as normal so I’m avoiding. I will venture out to a bigger store when our supplies run down. Thanks for your wishes. Stay safe out west!

  10. Osyth · March 19, 2020

    Salut you! I’ve been AWOL for a very long time battling my own dark place but as I emerge blinking in the light of a new dawn, ironically at a time of the highest fear and anxiety I feel stronger emotionally than I have for many moons. We are not on total lock-down here but we may as well be. And, as something of a hermit it mostly suits me. I take the dogs for their morning walk and that’s about it. Shops have their first two hours exclusively for the over 60s and those who are immuno-compromised in some way so I send HB2 since I am a few months shy of 60. We are working on the house here – a complete renovation to make it perfectly perfect for sale so that we can return to France. I’m a dreamer but my inner realist tells me that our plans may be arrested for some while by economics both here and there but I am back to my old positive self and I think to myself – I’m fortunate. Fortunate to be breathing, fortunate to be walking, fortunate to have eyes to see, ears to hear and a mouth to shout with. So I am coping with the confinement and counting good fortunes. Whether I will feel the same if we lock down, however, remains to be seen! Bon courage ma belle amie 💫

    • MELewis · March 20, 2020

      Lovely to hear from you, Fiona! You certainly have been missed in this space! Even though I see signs of life and poetic ramblings on other platforms, I miss your soul-baring thoughts on the blog. So happy to hear that you are alive and well and still working towards that eventual return to la belle France. 🇫🇷 Stay well and do check in from time to time…these are crazy times indeed and it helps to hear a sane voice from however far! 🙏🏻

  11. Garfield Hug · March 19, 2020

    Thanks for being sane in toilet paper quantities. I see mountains in others’ home. I really wonder what will the hoarders do with all the extras after 2020.

    • MELewis · March 20, 2020

      Ha, ha — they will have to either shit or get off the pot, as the saying goes! 😆

  12. Lex Leclerc · March 20, 2020

    Bonjour mon amie !

    Here in America, I am staying calm and when not calm, I run and paint.

    The bookshops in Buffalo are delivering books.

    C’est très bien. Nous allons fort. Wishing you love in France. 🦚
    Bises, Alex

    • MELewis · March 20, 2020

      Salut! It sounds like you are staying sane with good activities for the body and soul. Et de la bonne lecture! Moi, j’ai des amis qui me prêtent de bons bouqins en anglais… Thanks for your kind thoughts! Bises back at you! Mel

      • Lex Leclerc · March 20, 2020

        quoi est lecture? I think you are saying Me I have friends who “pretent” good something in english. i’m too tired and hungry to google it. i’m going to go eat some rice. and drink some milk. au revoir mon ami.

      • MELewis · March 20, 2020

        Reading material and book-lending friends! Enjoy your rice…😀

      • Lex Leclerc · March 21, 2020

        merci ! j’ai un tea avec moi dans le soleil. c’est tres jolie! 🙂

  13. Susanne · March 20, 2020

    I so appreciate hearing how others around the world are managing in these difficult circumstances. Your post and others provide perspective and hope.

    There are 5 of us trying to “social distance” in a townhouse that, generously measured, might be 1500 sq. ft. Me and eldest daughter are working from home, 2 university students finishing courses on-line plus husband and wee pooch. The dear spouse is cooking comfort food (pizza, pasta, chili, home made bread) keeping us fortified (ha – pun!) in the fort. But, as you can imagine, we run thru food pretty quickly with 5 adults eating all 3 meals at home. Stores in Ottawa are reducing hours and I think our approach is going to change this week to more careful menu planning and cooking in bulk so there are leftovers for lunches.

    And OMG. My hair. I was surfing YouTube yesterday for a how to video on how to cut my own. My husband has clippers. Worse comes to worse, I’ll go for a brush cut.

    One plus in this horrible situation is I think people may learn new skills – like hair cutting and cooking!

    • MELewis · March 20, 2020

      Learning new skills is definitely the upside (one of…I mean there have to be positives, right? Like enforced reading time..). I finally found time yesterday to start switching my lists from Wunderlist (taken over by Microsoft, sadly) to a new tool (Workflowy, a free-flowing endless list that I’m loving). And met several neighbours after years of living just across the fence! Anything to avoid doing my damned accounting…. Good luck with the do and stay well!

  14. eyelean · March 20, 2020

    I haven’t been out of the house since last Sunday and hubby finally pulled a droit de retrait at work Monday afternoon. His last outing was to the office Tuesday morning to see if they had a new mission for him but they sent him home because there are none (he inspects businesses for worker safety measures). Thank goodness he is here because I am somehow supposed to be teaching full time online and taking care of my three year old. Teaching online is frustrating—-the tools are all new and imperfect and we waste a lot of time just figuring things out. But we are grateful we don’t have any economic woes and we have a yard to enjoy the beautiful weather. I will n out being leaving the house until absolutely necessary—for pregnancy lab check ups next week…

    • MELewis · March 22, 2020

      Congrats on the forthcoming arrival! I imagine you’re being extra careful at the moment. I should probably be better at staying home, being officially in the over-60’s, but I could not avoid grocery shopping as having good things to eat and drink at home make confinement bearable. My son is also teaching remotely (although in Switzerland) from his small apartment in Geneva. I can only imagine how having an under-five at home would make things a lot more complicated. Bon courage!

  15. acflory · March 22, 2020

    Like you I have a reasonable stock of the food stuffs we use the most, but we’re almost out of milk and cat food. As the Offspring has a compromised immune system, we’re giving the cats some chicken. They don’t seem to mind. I’m hoping that the local supermarket will approve us for Priority Assistance home deliveries before the cats start eyeing /us/. Not running scared, but definitely not risking the Offspring’s life by going out to shop. Thank god for the garden!

    • MELewis · March 22, 2020

      Oh, dear….I worry about my son too (all grown up and living in Switzerland) as he takes a biologic drug for a chronic disease which does reduce his immunities. But oddly, the restrictions on the Swiss side are far less strict for now and he is still going out to see family, etc. with his girlfriend (against my advice!) I hope you get the home delivery assistance you need to ensure you get the basics aside from what the garden renders. I went shopping yesterday but wore gloves (we have no masks), kept a strict distance from others and showered when I got home. 🤞

      • acflory · March 22, 2020

        I’m sorry to hear that your son is still going out. Perhaps the Swiss have been more proactive in the testing and actually know where the virus is.

        I think the cats will be very disappointed once their own pet meat returns to the fridge. They had pork and beef mince tonight. I saved them some from the Bolognese sauce. 🙂 Stay healthy!

      • MELewis · March 22, 2020

        I don’t think the Swiss are more proactive on testing but as the public there tends to be more respectful, they are counting on people to act sensibly. For now groups of no more than 5 people are allowed to get together if they keep a 2-metre distance. At least your cats are enjoying the unexpected bounty! 😅

      • acflory · March 22, 2020

        Ah, but at least the Swiss are doing something. I’ve just watched the latest Dr John Campbell update, and apparently Sweden are doing ‘business as usual’. Terrifying. 😦

  16. Suzanne et Pierre · March 23, 2020

    It is certainly a strange time we are living. I certainly hope that it will come to a crashing end soon. I am glad to hear that you are taking the necessary precautions to keep safe. The toilet paper is still a mystery to me (and there was the same craze in Canada).

    We came back 2-weeks early from our Winter travel and we are in self-isolation for 2 weeks to ensure we aren’t carrying the virus (but no symptoms yet so we might be OK). We are allowing ourselves a walk every day but avoiding close contact – it is really strange to do big circles around people we meet on the streets. We should start posting soon… Take good care of yourself (mentally and physically) – (Suzanne)

    • MELewis · March 24, 2020

      I look forward to your next series — you and Pierre almost always transport me somewhere I have never been and may never go. We all need to travel virtually for now. Hopefully not too long! Enjoy the daily walks while keeping a safe distance!

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