Coup de grâce

My new Swiss resident’s permit states my nationality as ‘FRA’, short for ‘Französische’. It seems odd to be identified by my French-ness as it still feels new. Yet French I am, at least by adoption, and of my two nationalities it is the more relevant in the EU. Being Canadian is my trump card (and yes, I’m taking back that word), one that I play when travelling overseas. Sometimes also in the UK. Yet travel, for now, feels entirely irrelevant.

Like any newcomer to a country I seek out that which is familiar. That means sticking to my old French TV habits most evenings as I get dinner ready. Watching the news on Swiss TV in German, especially with subtitles, is far better for my language learning but hey, we’re all entitled to kick back. So the early evening talk shows on France 5 and the national news on France 2 keep me informed, if not always entertained, about what is happening in my new-former home country.

And it’s not good. In fact, it’s downright depressing. Somehow, having stepped away from the place, I now see all things French in an even darker light than before. Something’s rotten in the state of Denmark, to quote the Bard. Not to suggest corruption but rather to point out that the structure is crumbling.

Let’s start with the insanity of closing all ‘non-essential’ shops and services to prevent the spread of Covid19. Define ‘non-essential’. Beyond food and water, to me what is essential right now might mean chocolate, beer, books. To others it could be clothing, live music, exercise, museums, Netflix. If we are talking about anything beyond basic survival, how can a government define what is essential? And more importantly, how can these businesses survive the interminable shutdowns?

Right now all French shops aside from food stores are closed while online retaillers are booming. People are not allowed to go further than one kilometre from home for exercise while, for those who live outside of the cities, the forests and fields beckon. Children go to school while parents mostly work from home. What kind of crazy is that?

I learned on the French news this week that Le Printemps, the grand old lady of the French department store, is preparing to shutter several stores around the country. Management blames it on the ‘coup de grâce’ of the pandemic. Meaning that they were already in trouble, but that confinement has struck the final death blow to these stores.

The government decision to close shops during the prime-time roll up to the year-end holidays seems insane. Not to downplay the dangers of the virus, but with proper distancing measures store closures could be avoided. Masks, hand sanitizing, limited numbers allowed in shops. It’s not rocket science. Here in Switzerland it appears to work. Not risk-free, certainly, but a more balanced approach to saving lives and livelihoods.

Another French talk show last night was all about the profound transformation our society is undergoing with this pandemic. The work-from-home option is probably here to stay, which means that the value of commercial real estate will likely drop. Businesses of all sizes will be affected by this change, not to mention the many that will go bankrupt, leading to more unemployment. The knock-on effects of this crazy year are going to be felt for a very long time.

The photo featured at the top of this post is a bit of a cheat. I took it at the Musée d’Orsay when we were in Paris a few years ago. I don’t know anything about the work shown here but it doesn’t seem to depict a ‘coup de grâce’, which is a final blow delivered out of kindness to end suffering. Instead it appears to be about fighting back and defending against an enemy. Perhaps we should all take inspiration from it.

Qu’en penses-tu?


  1. margaret21 · November 12, 2020

    Welcome to the UK’s approach too. Worse, here the government lurches from crisis to crisis. One approach one day, another the next. Ordinary people and businesses barely know where they stand. And then there’s Brexit. Truly, we are a nation tumbling into severe decline.

    • MELewis · November 13, 2020

      Oh dear, Margaret, that sounds awful. As much as I hate all the rules in France, at least they are clear (if complicated). I hate to think of the chaos that would ensue if the government wasn’t at least consistent. Brexit is definitely an additional challenge in an already complex year. Here’s hoping the decline is only temporary and that you are able to keep calm and carry on as ever.

      • margaret21 · November 13, 2020

        Thank you. But really, there are no words ….

  2. pedmar10 · November 12, 2020

    It seems is everywhere in Europe, Spain is worse! At least some people are fighting back and now some easement is possible. At least the Chinese are quiet lol!!!

    • MELewis · November 13, 2020

      Yes, I visited Lucerne last week without the dreaded tourist buses invading the city. We must take comfort where we can!

      • pedmar10 · November 13, 2020

        Some win some lose that is life. I am home paid 100% so the situation is not affecting me but many others yes.

  3. midihideaways · November 12, 2020

    I totally know what you mean about the store closures, and other business closures for that matter. It will have a serious effect as people all seem to be doing their on-line shopping with Jeff Bezos, rather than with the individual stores. So many of them have put on-line sales into place.
    That said, it’s all well and good putting in place rules for distancing, but there is a terrible lack of discipline about sticking to those rules, at least in my area of France. I’ve seen it so many times when people just flaunt the rules about mask-wearing, and the business owners are not going to remind people to put their masks on – for fear of being aggressed or annoying/losing the customers.
    And people still don’t seem to get it – before mask wearing was obligatory I would wear one every time I stepped out of the house. The number of people who thought that I was either infected or crazy (or perhaps both :)) was staggering. Now everyone has to wear a mask when out in the village and there are still some who resolutely refuse. They have not realised that it shows that they have absolutely no respect for their surroundings!! OK, rant over!! It’s sad that we need a lockdown to slow the spread of the virus, if people were more respectful towards one another it would not have to go that far…

    • MELewis · November 13, 2020

      I can understand the rant! If everyone were to comply with reasonable measures, there would be less need for the extremes that France is now imposing. And what about the many who wear their mask at half-mast? 🙄 It really does seem that people are children when it comes to their relationship with authority. I remember years ago a friend of the family saying at a dinner party: ‘La France est un pays ingouvernable.’ It took awhile for me to agree but I must say it rings true.

  4. acflory · November 12, 2020

    I’m going to have to be the one to disagree, I’m afraid. I live in Melbourne, Australia, and we have just started easing out of a very strict lockdown:
    – No non-essential movement,
    – no non-essential retail stores [food, pharmacies not much else]
    – no non-essential industries,
    – an 8pm curfew,
    – 5 km radius of movement,
    – work-from-home,
    – no schools, colleges or universities,
    – no international travel [of course],
    – workers in essential trades needing a special ‘permit’ to do their work [like electricians] etc etc.
    – masks mandatory in ALL public places – e.g. you have to wear a mask to put your rubbish bin out to be collected
    – massive testing blitzes

    And we had all that for over 12 weeks. You know what though? We’re glad. 99% of us are glad because we went from 700+ new cases per day and rising, to none. We’ve had zero new cases and no new deaths for 13 consecutive days. And we want to keep it that way so that when new cases do pop up, as they will, they can be stamped out before they take hold. That is the ONLY way to control this virus.

    Why did we have to go to such extremes? Because of non-compliance. And asymptomatic spreaders, especially amongst the young. They have caused the spread of Covid-19 during the northern hemisphere summer. Remember, this is a stealth virus.

    If France and the other affected countries in Europe don’t get the virus under some sort of control, their hospital systems will collapse and people of all ages will die because they can’t be treated. Not just with Covid-19, but all the other things that can kill us – like heart attacks, strokes, out of control diabetes, cancer, road accidents. You name it, the deaths from non-covid related illnesses are likely to be as bad because people will be turned away from the hospitals.

    And then there’s the Mink Mutation in Denmark. If that spreads to the rest of Europe, Covid may go from a stealth virus that mainly kills the old and sick to a virus that can also kill the young and healthy. No matter how unpleasant the lockdown restrictions may become, they will be temporary. Dying is permanent.

    • MELewis · November 13, 2020

      I value different points of view and respect yours, Meeka. What you have achieved in Melbourne and Australia in general is remarkable! But at what cost? I’m not just talking about the economic costs, but what about social and mental health impacts? I think this whole pandemic will only be able to be appreciated with hindsight. How I’m looking forward to being able to look back on this year! (Indeed, if we live to tell the tale!) Only then will be able to truly weigh the outcomes and compare between countries and approaches. You are one to err on the side of caution and I respect that. But I think there’s a spectrum of reasonable response to risk. Time will tell the true cost of each approach.

      • acflory · November 13, 2020

        Both the Offspring and I are vulnerable to Covid-19 because of health reasons, so yes, I do have to err on the side of caution. I hope none of us has cause to regret the choices we make.

  5. Ally Bean · November 13, 2020

    I understand your points and will admit that I’ve nothing new to add to this discussion. IF people could just wear their masks and behave like adults, THEN perhaps the virus could be managed successfully but alas… I dream. Stay safe, be well

    • MELewis · November 16, 2020

      Sensible thoughts indeed. And thanks — same to you!

  6. francetaste · November 14, 2020

    I’m a bit late, but:
    Human nature in most Western countries is to push the rules to the max. During the first lockdown, I saw nobody in the first weeks, but then cars started showing up among the vineyards, with plates from Toulouse, and families getting out for a stroll. I understand, but at the same time, nobody appreciated the city dwellers, especially Parisians, being boorish, like buying all the croissants at the bakery (if you want extra, call ahead and order) or littering or making noise and having parties. This time, the rules are less strict, and plenty of people are again bending them to their will. People who managed to work from home in the spring are being told by their employers to come into the office. As a result, the streets are only slightly less full of people. There is no indication that shops are places of viral spread, but there’s lots of evidence that bars and restaurants are. Why doesn’t the government close those and pay those people–it would be less of a burden than bailing out every small shop? They haven’t done it because people would be in every store right now doing Christmas shopping. I think France is doing as well as it can and better than some.
    A relative in the US has COVID for the second time and has it much worse. Even went to the ER, but was sent home because it was overcrowded. A relative from another branch of the family has it as well–no smell or taste but otherwise OK–and must go to work…in a HOSPITAL, delivering babies!!! They are so short of staff that anybody who can get out of bed is required to show up. INSANITY.
    Anyway, immunity is only temporary, and there’s indications (Lancet) that reinfection is worse, as with my relative. So we aren’t out of the woods, even with a vaccine that the general public won’t get for a year.

    • MELewis · November 16, 2020

      Times are tough for hospitals everywhere but I would especially hate to be in the US right now. I hope your relatives have good outcomes. Thanks for mentioning the Lancet – will check it out. Had not heard much about second-time infections — it seems until now the evidence of this happening has only been anecdotal. Will be interesting to see how the whole thing evolves. In fact, the whole disease is such a moving target and an unknown that no one really knows what to expect. Except perhaps the unexpected. Here’s hoping that the draconian measures at least produce some relief for the year-end holiday period. 🤞

  7. Dale · November 24, 2020

    Sorry I am so late to the party. C’est de la grosse merde all over. If people would just abide by the mask-wearing, hand-washing, distancing rules, this would be more controllable. But you have those fools (The Separatists in Quebec, especially) who would vote for Trump if they could – behaving just like the Trumpettes. It’s annoying and hurting their own economy but no… we can’t have that… And I have friends who don’t believe this virus is anything worse than the flu – so forget about discussing with them, too.

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