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Confinement Confusion

Third time is not a charm when it comes to the latest French lockdown

Visual representation of all French people right now.

Le confinement.

That’s French for lockdown, or sheltering-in-place, two terms that don’t necessarily mean the same thing but have become almost interchangeable since this time last year for life as we now know it.

Working from home, cooking dinner every night, forming a friend bubble if you’re lucky enough to have one. Being confined, quoi.

The term seems simple enough to understand these days, but the latest round of lockdown orders for most of France (including Paris) are super, super confusing to the French.

To better understand why, you need to understand how incredibly strict the first round of confinement was in France compared to, say, measures implemented in most of the United States. Sure, there were similarities. Schools were closed. Everyone was asked to work from home, if possible. All non-essential services closed down, including restaurants, bars, cinemas, and clubs.

Strictly reserved for giant teddy bears.

But unlike the US, even outdoor activities in France were restricted. Most major American cities allowed people to go on walks and bike rides or even gather in parks as long as masks were worn and social distancing measures were practiced. In France, you were limited to how much time you spent outside the home and were urged to keep it brief and to the point, even for exercise. One hour was the limit. And you needed to carry an attestation - or travel declaration - signed and dated with you at all times when you did leave the house. Public places like parks were considered red zones to be avoided at all costs.

Please take a moment here and imagine how well that would have gone over with certain Americans who complained about wearing masks. OK, moving on…

The French got it right because, between May and June of 2020, life began to slowly return to normal for them. Restaurants, shops, and cinemas opened back up. Many took trips via train across France or Europe. In the fall, schools opened back up again.

But October brought with it a new wave of cases, followed by renewed restrictions, including a curfew. Almost all of the same measures were reimplemented, although schools remained open. Like the rest of the world, an ebb and flow of opening back up and closing back down have happened ever since.

Fast forward to now. The United States finds itself in both the happy situation of vaccinating loads and loads of citizens and the unhappy situation of certain states opening entirely back up when it’s possibly too early to be doing so. France finds itself going back into confinement for the third time.

Maybe it’s COVID-fatigue, but it seems like most of the French are a little cynical about this third round - and most definitely confused.

Staring at the horizon, waiting for clarification.

“People have been super willing to make an effort, but the message [this time] lacks clarity, and it all comes across as half-arsed,” says Emma G., a Parisian writer, artist, and friend.

The first hard-to-grapple bit is that restrictions on time outside have been completely lifted, making the third round of sheltering-in-place very similar to the American version (raise your hand if being told to shelter in place while also being allowed to hike and go to the beach was confusing for you, too. My hand is raised.).

“The list of essential shops has grown, and now includes shoe repair shops, and florists, and chocolate shops… the curfew used to be 6 PM, and has now been moved to 7 PM - which is lovely, but we’re all confused as to how pushing back the time of curfew is supposed to help fight the pandemic,” Emma continues. “We were told that an attestation would be needed whenever we left our homes, and then that idea was dropped.”

The lifting of certain restrictions and the implementation of others leaves most citizens feeling that they’re in an in-between situation where most of the rules are simple posturing and some of the allowances are the result of lobbying or public pressure (for instance, the opening of bookshops and music stores). All of this combined with the fact that there are major concerns in the country over the AstraZeneca vaccine, and a general weariness towards vaccination altogether… let’s just say, for many French people, their mood is in their socks.

No COVID here.

“Yes, the first lockdown was strict but easy to understand, and just made sense. Now, it’s a massive mess. I, personally, am thoroughly confused! And fed up,” Emma confesses.

She’s not the only one. A quick scan of any French social media and you’ll see that everyone is feeling a little in the dark this time around - and, as opposed to the United States, this ennui is almost entirely apolitical. It doesn’t speak to personal politics in France if you’re simply ready for the roller coaster to be over with and don’t know which rules to follow anymore.

At The French Collective, we wish we could offer clarification, but all we can add is perspective. With a pandemic that has affected most countries so gravely, how have we all responded so differently to a common enemy? We’re a little weary of musing on that answer… and ready for the days of traveling to any and all French-speaking countries once more. Sans attestation, bien entendu.


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