Thursday, March 19, 2020

The New Normal

Living in the age of Corona Virus…

PSA: Stop ALL non-essential travel NOW. Your holiday is not worth risking your or others' health.

For me this is so far no big deal. I prefer to stay at home, we don’t have or want a social life, M and I value time we get to spend together, I have a pile of books to read, there's cheese in the fridge and the wine cellar is full. As long as things are going ok with M’s small company, our lives will proceed as usual and we'll enjoy our health and the peace and quiet as long as we can. I hope that you are staying healthy and taking care of yourself if you've fallen ill. Look out for each other.

M and I have been criticized and laughed at (all in good fun, I’m sure) by family & friends for living somewhat like hermits. We do not need the physical presence of people, idle small talk or personal contact. We embraced “social distancing” long before it became a thing.

Expats - especially from the US - have complained endlessly about Germans’ lack of respect for personal space. I have had shopping carts pushed into my bum while waiting in line (with no apology or “excuse me”), other people’s children standing so close to me if I’d taken a step back I would have knocked the kid/s down, and I have felt the stank breath of a guy behind me in line. Back the hell off, Jack Jakob!

Suddenly things are changing, and for the better if you ask me.

I was at Real (our local grocery store) today, and I saw some really fabulous things. Please, dear God, let this remain the new normal!

  1. Signs at the entry instructing people to keep a 1,5-meter distance to others, especially at the check-out.
  2. Signs near some products - like milk - urging people to be thoughtful of others and only buy their normal household amount.
  3. Those grimy little triangular strip dividers we have to put between our items and the next person's items on the conveyor belt are GONE!! We now just have to leave a deliberate space between the items of the person in front of us and our stuff.
  4. On the floor at each check-out lane is a strip of tape instructing people how far back to stand from the person in front of them.
  5. The woman behind me got too eager for the cashier's comfort, put her items too close to mine and was standing close behind me to put her items on the conveyor belt. The cashier (she is my hero today!) told her to back up including pushing her items further back from mine.
  6. Some shoppers are wearing rubber gloves (including the woman behind me in the check-out).
  7. No one was standing in the aisles chit-chatting with each other casually (normally I have to slalom through the store around small groups who use the grocery store for their social time).
Short version at the Spätzle and Maultaschen shelf:
"Be fair and buy only what you normally need."

Tape lines showing Germans how much distance to keep
at the cash registers.
I had brought rubber gloves with me (the same one-use ones I’ve used until now for Aufbrechen – “field dressing”!), but I decided it wouldn’t make enough difference. I could avoid touching the shopping cart and door handles, but then the germs are on my gloves as I touch all the items I’m buying and will then put in my fridge. I just kept my hands away from my face and washed them twice when I got home. This is also nothing unusual for me – I always wash my hands when I return from being at the store, out in public, and especially after being on trains or buses. The fact that this is apparently such a new concept to so many confirms what I’ve always thought – that public places and everything we touch in them are filthy.

Handshakes are another thing. I happily shake the hand of the people I actually care about. But this whole shake-everyone's-hand-every-time-you-meet business drives me bonkers. People's hands are generally filthy. They're just got off the train or bus and touched door handles, poles, seats, the stop or door button, etc. I have taken care to avoid touching anything without a glove on, and now you want to shake my hand? I'm loving this unfortunately temporary ban on hand-shaking.

It's not that I'm a germaphobe or anti-social, but more because I'm an American (Midwesterner?) We greet people more removed than our closest friends and family with a distant wave, a fake smile, maybe a quick nod of the head. We don't even stop as we pass someone when we say hello, we just rush on to wherever we were going. We save handshaking for formal occasions like job interviews and meeting our fiancé's parents. Oh, and that "exchange of peace" thing in church, which is reason enough for me to avoid such gatherings.

I saw a meme the other day that falls under “sad but true”: Back in the 80s when we were all watching “Back to the Future” we thought by 2020 we’d have flying cars. Here we are teaching people how to wash their hands and be considerate of others.

Don't forget the positives:

  1. The air over China has not been this clean since the industrial age.
  2. The canals in Venice are crystal clear.
  3. People are starting to pay attention to basic hygiene.
  4. Life is slowing down for many of us, providing perhaps some time for reflection.

What positives have you found in all of this?


  1. We are finally using up lots of the food we had in our presses and freezer. Less food waste.

    1. That's definitely a positive. Also my husband told me this morning he read from a Berlin blogger that Berlin has never been so clean.