Social distancing à la française

One of the funniest things about the coronavirus, if anything about the coronavirus can be funny, is the way different cultures apply social distancing. In the States, the “social distance” is a nice 2 meters. In France, it is half that (although more and more signs indicate that the safe distancing is more likely to be 1.5). Even in normal times, the French stand much closer to other people than Americans do. I often find myself literally backing up so I can have some space. Now, with this coronavirus, I naively imagined that I would at last have that “space” I craved.

Forget that! When I go to the next door Franprix grocery store, I am totally freaked by the scene. The cashiers sit too close to each other, the people who stock the shelves pay no attention to who is around them or how close they are, and the customers don’t either, for that matter.

The cashiers, at least, are protected behind plexiglass and wear masks. But the safety stuff stops there. The customers, some wearing masks, some not, put their goods on the rolling whatever they call it (what do they call its by the way?) on one side, the cashier punches in the price and moves them to the space on the other side of her for you to pick up and bag. A word here: I have never, in 50 years of living in France, had someone ask “plastic or paper” and after the answer, put all my groceries in one of them for me. In France, YOU put your stuff in your bag and if you think it’s bad news in normal times, just imagine what transpires when everyone is trying to go as fast as they can and avoid having the person next to him cough or sneeze before you’re finished.

So, basically what I am trying to say is that coronavirus is a horror show and the grocery store has also become a horror show. True confession: I used to love to wander around grocery stores, whether in the U.S. or France. In the U.S., it was to marvel at all the products I don’t see in France, a certain type of peanut butter, for example, or chocolate chips that look like the chocolate chips of my youth and not the little bitty ones I find in France (but at least I find them now). In France, I marvel at all the wonderful food, from foie gras to charcuterie and cheese (oh, the wonderful French cheeses!) and even the pretty way that even the most ordinary products are wrapped. I actually used to LINGER in the grocery store, something I can hardly even imagine now.

It has been said that we will not return to normal, that we will never go back to the way things were, and what we should expect after lockdown is a “new normal”. I hope that “new normal” includes a combination of the French love of closeness which up until now has been expressed with “bises” and sitting or standing next to each other as close as can possibly be and the U.S. need for more space.

Mostly, I hope that you, my readers, are staying safe wherever you are and that when the lockdown ends, you will continue to take precautions. I certainly intend to do so for I have vowed to be neither victim nor a vector.

2 thoughts on “Social distancing à la française”

  1. Harriet, I think the thing you’re referring to at the grocery store is called a conveyor belt.

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