Bas les masques

The masks are starting to come off and guess what? It’s not pretty.

As confinement in the EU lifts despite ongoing concern about the Delta variant, restrictions are softening. It’s a tricky question as to whether this is too early or not. Vaccination is moving ahead but there are still many recalcitrants. I don’t have figures for Switzerland, although I know a couple of people in my own entourage who are very shy of the shot, but in general the numbers are not reassuring.

In France it seems fewer than half of those who work in care homes — yes, care homes, aka EPHADs, which house the elderly and vulnerable — have so far been vaccinated against Covid-19. Medical personnel appear to be among the greatest vaccine sceptics, especially the nursing staff.

Should vaccines be mandatory for all those who work in medical and care capacities? This is so basic that I just don’t get how it’s even a debate. Yet it’s far from the case and a subject of some controversy at least in France, land of libérté. But what about égalité and fraternité? I am a firm believer in the rule that individual freedom stops where it impinges on the right of others to live. So I vote yes for obligatory vaccination in the case of anyone whose job demands contact with the public. No one should have to get a vaccine if they choose not to, but in this case they should stay home to protect themselves as well as others.

I went to an indoor setting for the first time this week sans masque, and it felt strange indeed. Health clubs are now allowed to function without face coverings in Switzerland, and frankly after sweating my face off on the elliptical for the past few weeks, it was a relief to be able to breathe properly while exercising. But it still seemed a little risky entering a confined space with no protection, and I wonder if everybody else felt that way.

It seems the masks are off in more than one sense. People are once again revealing themselves and their beliefs. Rebels, anti-vaxxers, conspiracy theorists, those who don’t believe science or the media or anyone at all. People who think a Covid shot contains something that will make them magnetic.

Some people, I’m certain, have simply gotten quite comfortable hiding behind their masks. As odd as it felt to first wear a mask in public, I think a lot of people now feel a little naked without one. And some, according to my daughter, have become quite adept at making faces behind them.

How do you feel about wearing a mask?

Vu

When my kids were young and went to school in France, they would regularly submit for inspection a little book called ‘cahier de correspondance’ or ‘carnet de liaison’.

This method is a pillar of the French educational system. From the time they learn to write, this ‘cahier’ or notebook is the official mode of communication between teacher and parents (although it may now be going digital).

The child is the official channel through which all communication passes. In the earliest years, the children might even be made to copy down the teacher’s instructions for the parents as part of their school work; later, the cahier becomes a record of assignments, grades and other, often important information, sometimes even disciplinary notes from teacher to parent, hand-written, glued in or free-floating paper. It is up to the student to show the book to their parents, or other responsible individual, and sometimes obtain a signature on either end to prove that the information has been seen or ‘vu’.

“Vu,” I would duly write on my children’s cahiers, to prove that I was aware that class would end early on such-and-such a date, or that an event would take place to which parents were invited (a rarity in French schools). Or that my son had been caught playing a video game in class (GTA, hardly an appropriate theme, noted the prof) and would I be so kind as to ensure the offending Gameboy was not brought to school in future?

Naughty Maxence stuck his tube of glue up his neighbour’s nose.

Oddly enough, our budding delinquent grew up to become a teacher himself. May he inflict similar irony on the parents of his own students.

One might think this mode of communication would be highly subject to error, accidental loss or pages mysteriously vanishing. Oddly, it’s not. French kids only have to suffer the wrath of teachers and parents who have not been shown vital information once or twice to learn the lesson. And parents are quickly trained to ask their children if there’s anything to be ‘seen’ in the cahier early on the weekend, rather than to discover only late on Sunday that a special assignment must be completed for Monday morning.

I ‘saw’ many funny things during those years. Somewhere in a memory box, I have kept these precious records of my children’s school careers. And one day, I promise myself, I will dig them out and have a laugh, and probably a cry, as I remember some of the ‘perles’ (pearls) from those days.

‘Vu’ is also the name of a popular brand of wipes for cleaning eyeglasses. This TV commercial and the oft-heard phrase, ‘Vu, ah, j’avais pas vu!” was part of our family lexicon for years.

I still keep some on hand. You never know when your glasses will fog up.

What have you ‘seen’ lately?

Noisy neighbours

Here in Brunnen, the hills are alive with the sound of sheep bells. The tinkle and cling of their bells is much prettier and more musical to my ears than the clang of cow bells. These freshly shorn sheep are our nearest neighbours right now to the west of our apartment building. They are a curious and sometimes noisy lot who seem to enjoy staring at me when I go by with the dogs.

We are gradually discovering the burgeoning spring season here in Central Switzerland. It’s a lovely time of year as the grasslands get greener each day while the mountains still have quite a lot of snow. The temperatures are up and down — hot in the sun while still near zero in the early mornings and evenings. Wild flowers are out in force yet snow is called for early next week.

On the downside, some of the more surprising and far less pleasant noises than these nosey neighbours include the constant roar of motorcycles going by on the road below. It seems that the Swiss are big bikers, and all it takes is a holiday and a bit of sun to bring them out in force around the lake.

There are also church bells — not too near, thankfully, but still within hearing range of us every hour and on 15-minute intervals, 24 hours a day. The jury is still out as to whether I will get used to them enough to be able to sleep with the windows open. Air conditioning may yet be my saviour.

And in the meantime, I decided if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Meet our newest resident, the Koo Koo clock. I’ve almost got used to his hourly chirping (a sensor ensures he is quiet when the lights go out).

The noisiest of all our neighbours are the helicopters that are often put to work clearing dead trees off the mountains above. They also serve to transport patients to hospital in case of medical emergencies. One happened just this week and I found myself glued to the balcony watching the mesmerizing spectacle of the chopper landing, waiting for the ambulance, loading the stretcher and flying off again. I don’t know what the unfortunate neighbour had, or why he couldn’t have gone to the local hospital in Schwyz. It may be that Covid cases were out of control or that a more complicated medical speciality was needed in Zurich, which is an hour away.

I hope I never need them, but I’m sure glad they’re around just in case! (Also glad I picked up the dog’s poop right there in that field an hour earlier!)

Easter seems to be a big thing where we live now. Much to my delight, the tradition here is the Easter bunny, not those silly ‘cloches’ they have in France. This post from the early days of my blog tells the story of the French Easter bells if you’re interested: https://francesays.com/2013/03/31/quelque-chose-qui-cloche/

Wherever you are, may the Easter bells ring for you in the kindest of ways. Here’s to rebirth, renewal and the joy of a new season!

Il faut écrire

It’s been months since our move from France to Switzerland and I am still dealing with the administrative details. Some things were relatively simple. We cancelled the services associated with our house when it was sold, paid our final bills and did not have the mail forwarded. The reasons for this were two-fold: a) it was ridiculously expensive, and b) by the time I got around to it, we were already in Switzerland; in order to validate the request with the French post office online, you had to first receive a code in the mail at the address in France. I’m sure many letters were returned to sender.

When I first arrived in France years ago, I learned the hard way how to deal with administrative matters. The dreaded ‘démarches administratives’ could only be accomplished in person or, a défaut, in writing. “Il faut écrire,” my late Belle-mère advised me, after I complained about waiting forever to get through to someone on the phone only to be told I had to apply in writing. I believe she knew the address of every major administration by heart. Thirty years on, little has changed.

Sure, in the meantime the world has gone digital and services are available online, even banking. And even in France. But in order to do anything official, like change an address or your bank details, you still need to send an old-fashioned, hand-signed letter by the post. God save us.

In some cases, the whole letter must be hand-written. Manuscrite. I had to write an entire epistle in my school-book French in order to transfer the money to repay the mortgage on our house. Such is the lot in life of the person with neat hand-writing, however rusty. Husband could have done it more readily in French but his chicken scratch is nearly indecipherable.

The absolute worst example of this is ‘la Securité Sociale’, the French health and old-age pension system. To be honest, I kind of let that one drag on. Partly because I knew it would be sticky — my situation as a self-employed person working in Switzerland means I must deal with a special ‘caisse’ or fund of the SS. (Abbreviation mine, but somehow so fitting!)

Also because, especially in times of COVID-19, I wanted to make 100% sure I was covered in Switzerland before I cancelled things in France. Somehow that took until the end of the year, during which time I did get the dreaded virus, thankfully not requiring any major medical attention. And in the meantime I ran into a bit of a hiccup.

Switzerland, like France, has socialized medicine but the state only covers the basics. Which means that if you get seriously ill, you’re covered, but for all the rest you’re out of pocket. In order to get full health coverage here you have to apply to a private company for complementary insurance, which costs but does offer peace of mind. I was granted the basic coverage right away, as that is a given, but for the rest, they needed my family doctor in France to fill out a health questionnaire. The request was made in November and I am still waiting. We lived in the Haute Savoie in what is known as a ‘désert médical’, with few GPs. My doctor was one of the last ones in our area. Now he is busy transferring his practice to a new specialty: laser therapy. I get it. Burn out happens and he’s entitled to switch to a money-making occupation. What I don’t get is why I’m still waiting. I’ll spare you all the details but he has the form, we did an online consult to go over the questions. After two months of silence, I even sent a request to the Conseil des Médecins (licensing board). In the meantime, no complementary insurance.

However, what that meant was that I forgot about cancelling my French Sécu (unofficial abbreviation) until I realized I was still paying for it. This week I went online but couldn’t find the right way to declare my change in situation. So I phoned. A nice person eventually answered, and informed me that I should have filled out the S1005 form within a month of my move. Oops. That I would need to write a letter, fill out the form, send in a ‘justificatif de domicile’ (proof of residence). Yada yada yada. The wheels are in motion.

All of this reminds me of something I saw online a few years back. ‘Les perles’, or the best-of funny moments from things people had written to the Securité Sociale. This one will make you smile if you understand French:

Mon mari est décédé, je fais comment pour le retirer de la caisse?

Translation upon request.

Il y a un an

Many years ago when I worked freelance for Euronews, I used to love translating and voicing the pieces called ‘Il y a un an’. ‘One year ago today’ offered a brief look back at the news from the same day the year before. I’m not sure why I liked them so much. Perhaps because it was the recent past and I remembered living those moments when the events in the news had happened. Somehow this made it easier to translate. Perspective is everything.

And as I’ve posted in the past, I like to look back.

This time last year we were about to put our house up for sale. The task before us felt daunting. To sell a house in a market that was uncertain due to a breaking news story about what was still being called the ‘Chinese virus’. To find a new place to live, in a different country, then arrange the international move of our household. We were already working in Switzerland, but still, our home was in France. Switzerland is not part of the EU and there is a border with formalities on customs and taxes, healthcare and licence plates.

If hindsight is 20/20, then in retrospect I am grateful that we could not see what lay ahead. That the year ahead would be one of fear and lockdowns, social distance and isolation. That a vaccine would be found but in the meantime, lives and livelihoods would be lost. That we would personally get COVID-19 and be fine (thankfully) but that a year on as a society we would still be struggling to deal with the virus.

A year ago today, there were no masks. I remember being an early adopter of the idea, cutting up an old t-shirt and wearing my make-shift mask to go shopping. The French were suspicious, and resistant. There were rumours of government conspiracies. I felt like a pariah. But it didn’t matter as a few months later, PPE became de rigueur. We were stuck indoors except for essential shopping and a 1-km radius for exercise, one hour a day. If we left the house we had to carry a signed and dated piece of paper with us.

Yet somehow we stuck to the plan. Sold our house, arranged our move. Found a place to live across the border, a little outside of where we’d initially looked but way beyond our expectations in many ways. We made our move, got through all the administrative formalities. Took care of a million other details. And here we are.

Looking back, I’m amazed by what we accomplished. I’m also pretty sure that if we’d decided to wait for greater certainty, we would not have made the move at all. And while I feel some nostalgia for where we were last year at this time, I am glad we did not wait. For us, it was the right move at the right time.

I guess sometimes it’s better not to look too much before you leap.

Where were you a year ago?