Things about France that surprised me: the French in lockdown

As we prepare for a loosening of lockdown in France on 11 May, I summarise some of the things I’ve learned about the French during this period. There are some interesting insights into the country and its people.

Who could have predicted that France – the country marked over the last two years by gilets jaunes (yellow vest) riots and mass strikes – would be following one of the strictest coronavirus lockdowns in Europe?

For almost two months now France has been subject to stringent rules regulating all outdoor activity. When leaving home – even if it is simply to pop to the boulangerie next door – everyone must fill out, date and sign a form stating their errand and, if necessary, submit to regular police checks. And during this period, the majority of French have done as they were told.

Even if the police have handed out a ton of fines, there have been no riots, no protests, no social street stir. Even French president Emmanuel Macron sounded slightly surprised about French docility when he extended the lockdown to 11 May.

They said we were an undisciplined people and yet here we are respecting some of the most rigorous rules ever imposed in peace time.

Here’s what we have learned:

1. French people actually love rules

Ask anyone for a stereotype about the French and it won’t be long before revolutions, strikes and riots enter the conversation. The French do not have a reputation as people who follow rules gladly and indeed frequently cast themselves as natural rebels.

And yet the French government has succeeded in imposing one of the strictest lockdowns in Europe, and pretty much everyone has accepted it.

Yes, there have been a lot of fines handed out for breaking the rules, especially in the early days, but there has been no serious attempt at mass disobedience or revolt against the rules, in general people have accepted that lockdown is necessary and meekly filled out their attestations before leaving home.

Maybe it’s because the tight lockdown conditions give everyone the perfect excuse for indulging in a very popular French hobby – complaining – which I’ll cover in another post.

2. Apéro is very important . . . but drinking isn’t

The evening pre-dinner drinks ritual is de rigeur in France, and a little thing like being confined wasn’t going to stop it. Within a few days of the lockdown being introduced #apéroSykpe  and #apéroZoom were trending on Twitter as people came up with a technological solution to enjoying drinks with friends.

And yet it seems that the chatting with friends is more important than the actual drinking. While alcohol sales in the UK and US rose by up to 20 percent as limitations were imposed on daily life, sales of alcohol have actually fallen in France. Contrary to popular belief, the French are not big drinkers. That’s right, drinking alone in PJs at 3pm is not as popular in France as elsewhere.

3. The daily baguette is a necessity 

So leaving the house is a little more complicated than usual – involving as it does filling out a signed, timed and dated attestation declaring that the purpose of your trip is essential.

You might think that would be a reason to either cut back on bread or buy a sliced loaf that lasts a couple of days. Mais non! Boulangeries have of course remained opened as an essential business and everywhere it’s pretty rare to see one without a (socially distanced) queue outside as people wait to buy their baguettes.

4. The president is quite the TV star 

Before the coronavirus outbreak, president Emmanuel Macron’s approval rating was trundling along at around 30 percent – although that’s not particularly unusual for French presidents.

Jaques Chirac, subject of many gushing tributes when he died in 2019, had an approval rating of 26 percent when he was actually in office, François Mitterand’s rating in 1991 was 29 percent while Macron’s predecessor François Hollande reached the dizzy lows of 18 percent towards the end of his presidency.

Macron has enjoyed a slight rise since the outbreak, getting up to around 40 percent, but despite the fact that more than half the public regularly tell pollsters that they don’t like him, his TV broadcasts have been attracting record audiences. He has made four live TV addresses since the outbreak began with the most recent one – where he announced that lockdown would start to be lifted on 11 May  – with an all-time record audience of 36.7 million. That’s more than half the entire population and 15 million more people than watched France winning the World Cup back in 2018. Although it’s not like any of us had the option of going out for a meal instead of watching the president.

5. Creating new words is fun

We’ve all learned quite a lot of technical and medical vocabulary during lockdown. Not to be left out, the French have been busy creating new terms too.

French for lockdown is confinement so we’ve also heard a lot of talk of le déconfinement – the great moment when we’re all released, currently set for next Monday 11 May.

They’ve also coined co-confiné – the person you are confined to home with. That would be my beloved (and long suffering) husband.

And even the, largely ironic, bon confinement – have a great lockdown.

Sadly though there doesn’t seem to be a French version of covidiot!

(all images courtesy of AFP)

75 thoughts on “Things about France that surprised me: the French in lockdown

  1. That is the problem, president who should not be, gilet jaunes told him to quit, then came the police, nurses, teachers, lawyers and finally hospital workers but each time he comes up with soothing excuse, first the great debates and now the scientific council. Wait until we get out on the street as soon as confinement is over lol!!!

    Liked by 5 people

  2. This is a great post. I visited Paris last year and had such an amazing time. The baguettes were indeed delicious so I completely understand having to have them. I didnt really get to visit other parts of France but I hope to one day. Thanks for sharing this information. Have a wonderful day 🦋💕

    Liked by 5 people

  3. I was shocked it took so long for Americans to protest. But knew that once it started it would become a trend. I’m happy to read that Parisians remained logically in the face of a global health crisis!

    Liked by 4 people

  4. This was such an interesting post! I’m indeed quite surprised that the French president’s popularity has in fact risen a little during confinement. Our prime minister here in the Netherlands is also pretty popular now I think. He’s really pragmatic, so even though he’s a conservative, when the health minister had a breakdown, he appointed a Labor substitute.

    I chuckled at “bon confinement”.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. A fascinating account, Sheree. Heartwarming to see people acting so rationally. I’m glad Macron’s popularity has increased. He’s not perfect, of course, but we need models of stability.
    Your boulangerie story took me back to our long ago trip to Provence, where we rented a gorgeous home with dear friends—and one of us walked into town each day and returned with a large baguette—no bag or wrapping, just that crisp, delicious treat carried under one’s arm.
    Thank your lucky stars that you’re far from a covidiot—ours seems determined to kill us all!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. wow I didnt realise france had such a stringint lockdown regime! Our restrictions were lifted slightly on May 5th, and will be lifted a little more on May 18th, making up new words is fun, I bet your glad the lockdown is finally coming to an end!

    Liked by 2 people

      1. That’s something at least, it’s gradual here too although the health doctor here that’s leading Ireland in all this said he might back down and not eat the restrictions because we still have a lot of debts and a lot of cases been diagnosed every day so will just have to wait and see I guess

        Liked by 2 people

  7. The French love rules? What about driving?
    I am surprised they are making up new words, they are usually so precious about the language.
    Wales is the place for making up random new words.
    I enjoyed your post.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Wow, amazing adherence to rules in this mess! I’m not surprised about French bakeries and baguettes – the French need some sort of normalcy and national unity. I’m sad to say filling out paperwork to leave our homes wouldn’t fly here in the US. So many folks put our liberties ahead of national health and welfare – ugh, just look at our death rate. I’m sorry our leader started the covidiot term…

    Liked by 1 person

  9. What an interesting post! In Mexico some states are now “dry” (no alcohol sales allowed). Shockingly, especially to the Mexicans, beer production was halted in March. The result–shortages, hoarding, and outrageous prices if the product is found. I’m glad to hear the French still have their wine and baguettes; the baguettes are indeed an essential. They are just not the same either day old or frozen.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Wow, thank you for this post. I learned a lot about France and its people!

    êtes-vous née en France ? J’étudie la langue française et j’espère vraiment d’avoir de visiter le pays plut tôt 😀 Merci pour ton post et j’ai hâte de lire plus dans l’avenir !

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Nice one, Sheree. I remember back in the 90s thinking that the French would revolt when the indoor smoking ban came into effect. There was hardly a whimper! People can always surprise you.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Very strict rules regulating outdoor behavior. I’m glad the Marquis de Lafayette didn’t have to witness this or what is happening in the USA. Two great people who once loved freedom more than life itself.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Thanks for sharing your French day in the life, illuminating and pleasant compared to the states. White supremacists are revolting here, refusing to wear masks and keep social distancing. Some think this lockdown is one big conspiracy hoax, coordinated by world gov’ts to steal our rights. *Sigh*

    Like

  14. I’ve never been to France but I do have a friend who lives in the south of France near Spain. Until this Covid thing came along I’d hoped to visit her one day. I so enjoyed this post. It educated me to the nature of French. I did not know…
    When she visits, my husband tires of her incessant complaining, now I know she is only being French. I guess the word covidiot doesn’t apply to the French, since they are obligingly following the rules. We, on the other hand have many, many covidiots.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. You’ve written a nice summary of what you’ve learned about the French. The rule following is the most fascinating – I think it was due to the cause. I think of French culture as pragmatic.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I thoroughly enjoyed your post. It is nice to know that most still prefer their local boulangerie rather than buying store bought sliced bread with preservatives.

    Liked by 1 person

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