A quelle sauce on sera mangé

With which sauce will we be eaten? This is the question the French have been asking themselves ever since Macron announced that the coronavirus lockdown in France would be lifted starting from May 11. If we all behave ourselves and stay home until then, that is.

The political system in France is based on a President, who makes high-level decisions, and a Prime Minister, who puts them in motion with the ministers in his/her cabinet. The hierarchical nature of such relationships was first made clear to me in an interview with the late French President Jacques Chirac, who, when asked to describe his relationship with his then-Finance Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, was famously quoted as saying: “Je décide, il exécute.” (Basically: he does what I tell him).

No one was really surprised when PM Edouard Philippe began presenting his detailed plans for deconfinement with a warning that May 11 could easily be pushed back if there is a spike in new cases before then. Meaning: stay home now or forget about going out again any time soon.

The plan is based on three pillars: protect, test, isolate. It is a phased approach in which schools, stores and most everything else will reopen and get back to business over May and June. As of May 11, people will no longer require a document stating their business when outside home. But we will have to stay within a 100-km radius for now, unless for work or family emergencies. This is to prevent the entire country from racing to the coasts for the May-June long weekends and causing a new wave of COVID-19 to spread.

In the meantime the goal is to step up testing to 700K tests per week. Tracking and tracing through an app is also planned so that any new outbreaks can be contained. Masks will be available, and required in some public places like the trains and métro, although people will have to buy them, a concept that many of my state-reliant fellow citizens find abhorrent.

Restaurants and beaches will remain closed until further notice, probably reopening sometime in July for a later-than-usual holiday period.

All in all, people in France will still have to be patient but there is hope that things will return to a ‘new normal’ by summer.

As sauces go, it could be worse.

There is a consensus among many of the media that France has fucked up in its management of the pandemic. The dearth of masks and hand sanitizer, the earlier confusing messages about whether or not to wear a mask, to go out and vote in municipal elections or stay safely at home — all of these critical points and failures are true. It’s their interpretation that is somewhat open to debate. Yes, our leaders could have handled many things better. But when I look around at what has happened everywhere else in the world, it could also have been a lot worse. It seems this healthcare crisis has exposed the worst cracks in our society at every level, like fault lines in an earthquake. I only hope we will learn from it and that these mistakes will be lessons on how to do things better in the future.

In the end I suppose I’d rather be eaten in a French sauce, even mediocre, than a Chinese or an American one.

Et toi?


  1. midihideaways · April 30, 2020

    Living in the sticks has meant that we’re far less at risk than the people in the big cities – nevertheless, people here have been pretty good overall in sticking to the rules and I’ve only heard of one case in the village. I do miss being able to go and see my friends, but it’s a small price to pay, and only temporarily. It could all have been much worse, our hospitals here were never stretched past their capacity, so the lockdown measures work in our part of the world!

    • MELewis · April 30, 2020

      Agree it’s a small price to pay, and also very grateful to live in a place where going out doesn’t mean rubbing shoulders with millions of others. Glad you have stayed well and avoided the worst in your village. In our area, Annecy was a ‘foyer’ and I know of a few people who were affected. Hoping our area is not classed ‘red’ due to this. But thankfully I have a Swiss work permit so can escape across the border if needed when I get cabin fever!

  2. Garfield Hug · April 30, 2020

    It does seem that practically every country that I have read on for Covid dithered about in getting their act together to fight or be alerted to Covid. In honesty no one wanted to believe in it. It then happily migrated with travellers as they traversed the world and for lil red dot, it came through visitors from Wuhan, who attended church service in a quiet smallish self set up type church. Our government (we are know to be super “kiasu” in colloqual terms but meaning “afraid to lose out” in English), swung into action to start contract tracing vehemently and now they are testing more than 30,000 foreign workers in Singapore. Our numbers will get higher but at least we are addressing the issues. I hope for France sake, all is contained, everyone behaves and lives can go on. Stay safe my friend and be alert still as from what I have learnt, there is no immunity from it as well as there are asymptomatic carriers about.

    • MELewis · April 30, 2020

      Whatever your government is doing seems to be working as I see the deaths are low in Singapore despite quite a few active cases. Agree that asymptomatic carriers are a concern and I wish for that reason that everyone would just make mask-wearing in public the norm until it all dies down. Alas, it does not seem to be a European thing and unless it is mandated, few wear them. Thank you for your well wishes — same to you in Lil Red Dot! 💚

      • Garfield Hug · April 30, 2020

        France should mandate mask wearing like us here. I hope a vaccine for Covid is derived soon💕😊

  3. francetaste · April 30, 2020

    When Covid broke out, I thought of SARS, from 2002. It shut down Hong Kong, which I remember because m y then-employer had a big operation there, but only for a short time. In a way it was scarier, because it was transmitted in apartment buildings via plumbing and on the wind. But it never led to any kind of controls in Europe or North America. It went away without any treatment or vaccine being developed, just through contact tracing and isolation.
    The whole thing with masks is that governments (pretty much everywhere) were worried about hoarding of the best ones, which were needed for medical personnel. They could have gone with some kind of shame campaign so that anybody seen with an N95 mask outside a hospital or ambulance would be considered some kind of traitor. They could have promoted wearing barriers much earlier–not just those who are sick, though they could have reminded everybody that they could be infected by an asymptomatic carrier, thus increasing the pressure on people to wear masks all the time, not just those who are coughing. They could have required masks for entering grocery stores, etc. But I think overall the authorities, whether in France, the WHO or Fauci/Brix, have done their best with what they knew at the time, and what they know continues to evolve. And they were under tremendous pressure not to overstate the situation, which might have resulted in not stating it enough.

  4. MELewis · April 30, 2020

    Agree! It would be easy from where we sit today to reverse-engineer the decision-making but you have to have a degree of respect to those who had tough decisions to make. In some ways they are damned if they do, and damned if they don’t. The mask thing is a mess and I get the feeling that by the time enough are available they will be deemed unnecessary. Hope by then we will have learned the value of crisis management and keep a stockpile of needed objects on hand or a plan to produce locally when needed. I remember SARS well as my family had a close friend who was one of its earliest victims in Canada. It made far less of a splash in the media but was a very scary virus.

  5. Joanne Sisco · April 30, 2020

    I’m encouraged when I read about the process of recovery in other parts of the world who are ahead of us in this pandemic. While we used to get a lot of news out of Europe during the early days, our media focus now is directed inward and I feel like we are in an information bubble.

    Glad to hear that the reins are being loosened and I hope that there aren’t spikes again as a result. We have learned some terrible lessons out of this crisis and I hope it will result in meaningful changes going forward.

    • MELewis · April 30, 2020

      The French media have also done this to some extent. It seems the worse things get, the more inward-looking we become. Thankfully we have access to broad information via the internet and other countries’ media as well. I check this website a lot as it gives details on any country of choice: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/
      I’m sure there will be some spikes as we unlock the confinement, but am hopeful it may be seasonal and disappear with the good weather. 🤞

      • Joanne Sisco · May 1, 2020

        Thank you so much for the link! I really appreciate it.

  6. margaret21 · April 30, 2020

    Like you, I’m prepared to give our governments a little latitude in how they handled it – it was a new situation for everyone, though here in the UK they dithered too long. However, one thing I’m grateful for has been our continued ability to leave the house for exercise. I know it’s been easier for those like me in a rural area to avoid people, but I’ve really valued my two, three, even four hour walks which have been denied to you. It’s kept me sane, and healthier too should the worst happen. Coming out of Lockdown is going to be worrying for all concerned. But too many people are suffering from containment – those in poor, small accommodation, or in dangerous relationships, or whose jobs are precarious, for the situation to continue indefinitely. No easy answers.

    • MELewis · April 30, 2020

      Right, hindsight is 20/20 and as you say, no easy answers at all. I envy you those long walks, especially as the weather was so perfect there for a few weeks. Now we are looking at two weeks of rain. Which is perhaps just as well as things are terribly dry here.

      • margaret21 · May 1, 2020

        Here too. But as you say, it’s much needed.

  7. Ally Bean · April 30, 2020

    That’s a wonderful saying. Your government has a better handle on this novel coronavirus than ours. I worry/wonder what will come to be our new realities, but in the meantime we have to attempt to remain healthy. And decide which sauce will be ours. I live near the American South, so maybe I’ll pick red-eye gravy.

    • MELewis · April 30, 2020

      It is a great expression, eh? Did not really address that in my post but glad you picked up on it. One of those very ‘imagée’ phrases you get a lot of in French. What on earth is red-eye gravy?

      • Ally Bean · April 30, 2020

        It is gravy made from the drippings of ham + leftover black coffee + other ingredients. I’ve had it once, but I couldn’t taste the coffee. Gotta give it to those Southerners, they knew/know how to use everything.

  8. kairosia · May 1, 2020

    The interesting part of the US story to me is NYC as THE hot spot. Aside from New Jersey, every other area’s issues pale.

    Here in the Pacific Northwest the case numbers have been low to moderate, hospitals are well stocked, and the death rate around 4%, in contrast to NY around 6-7% (or France over 10%?). All this in spite of Washington state being the first to explode with a nursing home outbreak. Our restrictions have not been onerous, but again we have the advantage of space. NY is crazily fun and exciting to visit (and live in) in the best of times, but at this juncture, who would have a hankering for the city that never sleeps?

    When will our former life return? Never, I suspect. Sounds grim, but hope springs from human ingenuity and love.

    • MELewis · May 5, 2020

      You are right about NYC but what makes things interesting in the US is the geographic and population diversity. I can really see how a track-and-trace app would make sense for such a big country with just a few key hot spots of cases. No need to shut down the entire country if you can isolate and contain local outbreaks. It’s hard to compare numbers though, due to inconsistencies in reporting. I don’t think the death rate in France is that bad. 386 deaths per 1m population vs 211 in the US. But our density is so much higher — 60 million people in a country smaller than Texas! So it’s all relative I guess. Surely we are on our way to a new normal. But I think whatever happens it will take years for people to calm the fear. PTSD (PCSD?) will be rampant.

  9. coteetcampagne · May 3, 2020

    I completely concur

    • MELewis · May 5, 2020

      About the French sauce? Quelle suprrise (not)!

  10. acflory · May 4, 2020

    Australia [and of course New Zealand] dodged most of the Covid-19 bullet, but I very much fear that this ‘success’ will leave us wide open to the ‘real’ spread once things open up. I would have thought that testing /everyone/ would be the first step for every country, before even thinking of relaxing restrictions. All the data shows that there are a heck of a lot of asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic people out there. They are going to be next to impossible to find if only those /with/ symptoms are tested.
    The Offspring and I are staying put until there are some viable therapeutics and/or a functional vaccine. 🙂

    • MELewis · May 5, 2020

      That’s funny, I wonder why? The island mentality in which you hunkered down to stay safe? 🧐 Hopefully we will get better at tracking and tracing cases to contain outbreaks in future. But vulnerable people will still have to be super careful until, as you say, we have a vaccine or a cure. I hope you can manage to enjoy life and get out as much as needed without too much stress.

      • acflory · May 5, 2020

        I don’t know that we have an island mentality – UK certainly hasn’t had one – I think we’ve just been lucky. And most of that luck has to do with our isolated geographic location. Whatever the reason, Covid-19 has barely touched us, so far. What I fear is that a reopening will allow the asymptomatic people to spread the infection far and wide before the authorities are even aware of it. That could lead to a second wave that’s far, far worse than the first.
        As the blind man said, “We’ll see.”

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