You’ve probably noticed by now how it’s all gone a bit Exodus, that the newspapers have become great harbingers of doom, and that the world’s generally on an off-day. Coronavirus (for it is she) has spread to France, which is now the 2nd most infected country in Europe, and the ENS has closed. Plus no gatherings over 1000 people (so I ask again that my group of admirers disperse), and we’re not really supposed to travel.
The responses from Cambridge (my home university) and the ENS Lyon (my Erasmus university) have busily reinforced national stereotypes. Our President at the ENS sends anxious daily missives with strong dramatic flourish, every point made, expanded upon, underlined, accompanied by a counter-argument.
On the British side, the tone is so unassuming as to be the email equivalent of a bashful Hugh Grant half-smile. The MML department is playing hard to get: so coy. The only e-mail we’ve had was from a few weeks back, a demeure note to tell us that they’d be in touch.
As public services shut down, and social life circulates down to just two men standing in a park, wondering where everyone went, the matter of choosing my quarantine country becomes more pressing. Being a temporary resident of a country makes any potential quarantine more difficult, as the concept doesn’t stretch to merry channel hopping – in fact, some would say this kind of behaviour is to be actively avoided. Eugenio didn’t get this memo: his eyes light up gleefully as he describes his trips between Italy and France -worryingly whilst making drinks for us.
It’s an odd decision to make as a temporary resident, as this period is marked out for French Life ; but the desire to be family, friends and my boyfriend is, naturally, strong. In order to decide, I’ve been compiling a mental list of each country’s pros and cons, which I will copy here:
+ Speaking French, saving money on ticket home, living in the ‘Gastronomic Centre of France’ (or ‘of the world’, if you’re from Lyon and are quite bold in your egotism), wine, cheese, general soaking up of frenchness by osmosis (by this i mean non-sexual , sartorial leering at chic women in cafés), better healthcare system, Macron’s piercingly blue eyes, other students around. Still have quite a lot of food left in the fridge, as a result of lightly excessive stockpiling.
– I’m not actively seeking to catch coronavirus .
+ ‘Loved ones’ bla bla . Cheddar. Free meals, with opportunity for additional parental financial extortion.
– Brexit Britain, Farage, Johnson, etc. Being legally obliged to sing happy birthday while handwashing. Monolingual life.
Guess I’ll just wait and see.
The coronavirus has also made me understand just how low my ‘standards’ of ‘hygiene’ can fall. Yesterday, Izzy looked at me with just a little pity as my ENS card fell out of my mouth (where I was storing it) and onto the floor, whereby I just picked it up , and popped it straight back in, corona-infected gravel and all. Faith, Robin and I are extremely relaxed about sharing food : this very morning, as Robin prepared to catch a flight back to the Netherlands (sorry, did I mention how cool and international my friends are now? If you want to stay a part of the inner circle, you’ll have to pick up at least one more nationality), we had a lot of fun sneezing and coughing on each other, and eating each other’s sandwiches. This is part of a masterplan to infect Robin, and so enter into joint quarantine together – just to, like, hang out.
Yesterday I got very excited for about half an hour by the prospect of £200 ‘corona cheap’ tickets to Buenos Aires; then read today that South America is preventing Europeans from entering. If only they’d done the same 600 years ago …
My experiences in getting a) a parasitic infection, and b) getting stuck in Bolivia during a national crisis have helped me to become more resilient in this situation. Living just over La Manche from home feels less dramatic than the distance between South America and the U.K: should everything really go badly, it’ll still be fine to get home.
I realise I’m being a bit flippant with all of this, so yes: disclaimer – I know i’m young and healthy and privileged etc. In spite of this good fortune, I am still feeling a bit ticked off. France is a wonderful place to live, and I’ve been waiting to come here for so long – I really hope I don’t have to cut my time here short. However, I do have some back-up plans: volunteering in Calais (I thought I would go this summer, but working now would mean I could go for longer), finding au-pair or babysitting work in France, writing the YAP, and possibly going home for a bit – my parents and boyfriend were supposed to come at the end of March, which is now looking uncertain. I’m not especially prone to homesickness, but I always want to see them.
Other languages students are in the same limbo of quarantines, breaks from work and university, cancelled flights, worried parents: it’s been easier talking about our thoughts and options together.
And finally, I’ve adopted the attitude of my 89 year old step-grandmother. When my mum called the other day, to ask about arrangements for her 90th birthday next month, she squashed any thoughts of cancellation. Of course not: I want to see my family ! Twice-widowed, trilingual, a child during WWII, and a former expat in cold-war era Vienna, she is not panicking. Neither am I.