Thursday, 30 April 2020

How the French Cope With Lockdown

The strict lockdown rules in France have led to a lot of whinging and complaining about the detail, and some really valid concerns about how certain groups are at serious risk from things other than the Covid19. Like many other places in the world an unfortunate effect of the lockdown has been soaring domestic violence incidents, and a realisation that not all kids have access to the resources necessary for adequate home schooling. 

Proper champagne, from a medium sized estate you've probably never heard of.
Champagne. France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

But mostly, the rules about staying at home have been adhered to by a population that is broadly in favour of how the government is treating the crisis. It reminds me of the changes to smoking laws, where there was an expectation of widespread disregarding of the ban on smoking in restaurants, but in fact, smoking in restaurants stopped overnight. Smokers accepted that they were in a dwindling minority and took over the terraces. 

With the silent majority behind the legislation there was a genuine cultural change in smoking behaviour, and now in physically isolating to slow the progression of the virus. Sure there has been unease about the PPE situation and criticism about the clarity of some government messages, but Emmanuel Macron's popularity rating has shot into the stratosphere, people have stopped shaking hands and kissing, and only leave the house every few days for supplies rather than daily.

Chinon red wine from a small family estate in the Touraine Loire Valley.
Chinon red wine from a small family estate. Loire Valley, France. France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

One of the most interesting outcomes of the lockdown is that alcohol sales have gone down in France significantly, where it has gone up significantly in anglophone countries by about the same amount. I think this tells you something really important about French culture. Something I've suspected but wondered whether it was one of those rose coloured misconceptions that foreigners can be prone to. That is that drinking alcohol is not something you do at home alone in France, or to excess. 

It is intimately connected with socialising, when you want to relax with your friends and chat. It is not about drinking to oblivion but drinking to enhance social interaction. You don't drink because you are anxious or bored and can't sleep. You drink because social occasions benefit from a bit of lubrication. 

 Natural sparkling wine from Vouvray in the Loire Valley.
Natural sparkling wine from Vouvray. Loire Valley France. France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

The French have very quickly adopted the 'video apéro' as a way of linking up with friends and family, but it's not the same as gathering in a bar together, and consequently, alcohol consumption is down 16% here. Anglo households in Australia, the US and the UK on the other hand are drinking 20% more and are finding themselves getting through a bottle or two every evening, not just a single glass, and not just on the weekends. After all, they are not getting up at the crack of dawn any more to commute to work. 

Personally I've been quite intrigued to see these figures. I think this cultural difference in how alcohol fits into the daily routine is important, but I also suspect that many French households have better stocked cellars that they can select from in a time of crisis rather than risk a trip to the shops or spend on a delivery when they don't know how secure their finances are.


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Colin and Elizabeth said...

"I also suspect that many French households have better stocked cellars" We went in quite a few private cellars when there and yes some remarkable stock. Going back 30+ years when my daughter was 14 our french camping friends took us back to their house in Bordeaux and gave us a bottle of wine from his cellar dated 1975 the year Sarah was born. It was drunk when she was 21... She is 46 this year!!!!

chm said...

So, French people are not ivrognes after all!

Susan said...

I think they used to be. If you look at the drinking figures for the mid 20C they are fairly horrifying. But now, since drink driving has been linked to public health, the population has really taken on board messages about drinking and health.

Susan said...

Yes, almost everyone who doesn't live in a tiny apartment has some sort of cellar, and they are storing wine long term, not just drinking it immediately.

Jean said...

The bottle of champagne looks familiar. We did a lot of touring and tasting around the champagne region in the 90's and it's highly likely that we have tasted it.
We were so relieved when smoking was banned in French restaurants. We had had numerous good and expensive meals spoiled by taking in someone else's smoke with every mouthful. On numerous occasions the only available non-smoking table was sandwiched between smoking tables, to the extent that both of us were closer to our smoking fellow diner than to each other.
The problem has been shifted outdoors and the outdoor dining experience is no longer pleasant. The added bonus of all the dog ends on the ground means that you sometimes feel like you're eating while sitting in an ash tray.

Susan said...

It was a gift from a client. We were saving it to drink on Simon's birthday in Switzerland, but that's not going to happen now.

I'm rarely bothered by smokers in restaurants. They really are much few than they used to be, and most of them are aware they are pariahs these days. Also I'm not a huge fan of eating outside unless the weather is absolutely perfect.

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