Confinement was a tough time for me, as it was for most people. And I realize most of my following is based in the U.S., where many states are still closed or have opened too early then had to close again, or individuals have to impose restrictions on themselves since officials won’t.
In France, we were in lockdown for about two months beginning in March. And when I say lockdown, I mean lockdown!
France basically shut down. Schools, stores, dine-in restaurants, etc.
It’s been strange for me to talk to friends and family back home about their version of confinement because the ‘shelter in place’ guidelines they’ve been given have seemed so vague and it seems like the rules are constantly changing.
‘Shelter in place’ but you can go on a picnic, ‘shelter in place’ but you can go on a walk with a friend, etc., etc. I get that some would take advantage of the ambiguity of guidelines, but not having clear rules or restrictions in the first place is certainly going to amplify that.
Well, in France, the rules were very clear.
You could only leave your house for necessary purchases like groceries or for exercise that was within a kilometer of your residence. (Tangent- leaving your house for doctor’s visits was allowed–I had a doctor’s appointment via video conference during confinement and my doctor told me that because of the pandemic, doctors weren’t charging anything! The state took care of everything. Normally they cover 70% and you pay everything -as in €25 for a visit with a general doctor- upfront then you’re reimbursed 70% by the state later. This time I didn’t pay anything at all).
Outings were limited to an hour and you were not supposed to leave the house more than once a day. (So if you left for exercise that day, no groceries.) You had to carry around an official piece of paper printed off from the French government’s site that said what you were doing, what time you had left, and sign the document. In addition, you needed to carry around an official ID. If you failed to meet either of these requirements you could be given a hefty fine.
Of course, like anywhere, people tried to skirt around the rules. There were still some people sneaking out to see friends or run further than their allocated kilometer. I saw some people get fined from my window and others got away with it. For the most part, though, it seemed like the majority of people were taking things seriously.
My husband and I only left the apartment for groceries, though JP would bike to his grandmother’s house once a week to deliver groceries (leaving to care for someone who needed help was allowed). We’re well-situated in that picking up groceries was right next to our apartment. In France, one of the chains of grocery stores, E.Leclerc, has pickup points so you can order your groceries online and go to the pickup spot to collect them. We did this throughout confinement rather than walking a bit farther to our normal grocery store to limit contact. (The lines at the regular grocery store we go to were huge if you didn’t get there right when they opened).
We weren’t allowed to go on walks or exercise together, and I started to feel nervous to leave the house. I knew I was allowed to leave for exercise and all I would have to do was show my piece of paper and ID if I got stopped, but it made me nervous. I was quite confident I wouldn’t be harmed or anything if I was stopped by a police officer, but I was still scared. I don’t want this to seem like I’m comparing my experience WHATSOEVER to Black people’s experiences in the U.S. and police brutality. If anything, I’m saying the fact that I was so anxious to leave just because I may have had to talk to a police officer shows how much privilege I have comparatively. I wasn’t scared for my life, I was just nervous about interacting with an intimidating authority figure and speaking French with him/her.
Eventually, after about a month I finally went on a walk. I started crying when I saw trees! I didn’t realize how much I had missed being outside or being in nature until I saw some greenery. I was also just so overwhelmed with leaving my apartment and walking farther than the pickup grocery point.
While campuses shut down, university classes continued.
I’ve been working as an English language instructor at the Université de Bordeaux Montesquieu site for this past school year. My official title is “lectrice” which is a special type of job for foreigners. Most of the time, you need to have a decent amount of teaching experience and your M1 (one year of grad school). You’re hired to teach your native language to university students and you cannot be a lectrice for more than two years.
I have loved working with university students. They have been really wonderful and I’ve been so impressed with them. I mostly work with law students. Switching our in-person classes to an online format was definitely challenging though, for both my students and myself. It was hard to not be able to interact with my students in person, especially as an ESL instructor. While I am a language instructor, my classes are really conversational and involve a lot of debate. I also found it more difficult to grade online exams rather than physical copies. We got through the semester though and I’m really excited to be able to stay on as a lectrice again this upcoming school year. The format will look different because the university is trying to minimize the size of in-person classes as much as possible–I’ll update you when I know for sure what classes will be like, but I do know we will all certainly be wearing masks! Which of course is necessary, though it may make a language class a bit more challenging.
I got my Master’s Degree!
Working on my Master’s thesis was pretty hard for me to do during confinement. I thrive in libraries, and of course, libraries were and remain closed.
It was hard for me to get into a good work groove during confinement, even though all I really had to work on was my thesis and grading.
Stores opened back up in mid-May, and restaurants and cafés opened up a few weeks after that.
Masks are required in any public closed space, (public transportation, stores, gyms, restaurants and cafés when you’re not at your table) which I’m all for!!
Things are definitely not back to ‘normal’ and France certainly hasn’t beat COVID-19, so I don’t want to seem like by posting pictures of me having a good time I’m being facetious about what’s going on. But I did want to explain a bit about my confinement experience and what I’m up to now.
Travel to many EU countries is allowed, though I’m not planning on venturing outside of France anytime soon.
I went on al little countryside getaway this past weekend to Sauternes, which is about an hour away from Bordeaux and I’m working on another blog post about my trip. This blog is mostly based on the idea of travel and ex-pat adventures, and while I want to stay true to that, I also want to be sensitive to other people’s situations.
So if you are reading this cooped up in the U.S. right now, thank you for being careful and taking this seriously. I hope you’ll be able to visit France sometime and when you can, I hope these posts will be helpful.
P.S. I feel like I should change my ‘xoxo’ sign-off since hugs and kisses are definitely NOT APPROPRIATE right now, so if you think of a socially distant sign-off, let me know in the comments below!