Posts filed under ‘About the Pandemic…’

Everyone is tired of this virus…

No hugging each other. (But you can hug yourself.) Keep a safe distance. Wear masks.

…and that is perfectly understandable.

However, it’s still here. And we still have to fight it, every way we can.

Many people are getting tired of Emmanuel Macron as well, and many (myself included) are disappointed about his shifting from the center ever more toward the right end of the political spectrum.

Still. This story made me smile this morning, and I am choosing to feel good about the fact that two young (and apparently extremely popular) YouTubers who I had never heard of before (because, let’s face it, I am neither that young, nor that cool…) accepted a challenge from le President de la République (Macron) to make a video reminding everyone of all the ways we need to continue working together to fight the virus that is, after all, continuing to wreak plenty of havoc among us–not only those who are suffering from the virus itself, but also those who are caring for them. (And they, more than anyone, have a right to be very very tired of it.)

The President challenged the YouTubers (McFly et Carlito) to make a video reminding everyone of what les gestes barrieres are (masks, physical distancing, airing out rooms, working from home, avoiding large gatherings, and so on). And has promised them that if they can gather 10 million views he’ll invite them to do a video of their choice from the presidential palace (Elysée).

They in turn have expressed completely appropriate skepticism and characteristic youthful irreverence about the challenge (among other things, they refer to him as “Manu” which is a not quite correct way to refer to le President de la République* but hey, what did he expect from these two?)

More importantly, they accepted his challenge and have made a very witty video doing exactly what he asked them to do. And they in turn have promised that any money they raise in connection with this video will go to help feed students in need. (Last year they raised more than 400,000 euros to help healthcare workers.)

So why not take a look at it, and help them meet their goal? It will be a good test of your French, and my hope is that even if you don’t understand all of it, it will make you smile. Here it is!

It certainly cheered me up this morning 🙂

*Always something new to learn: here’s a bit more context about the term “Manu.” Who knew? (Not I. 🙂 But I agree, he shouldn’t have humiliated the young man…)

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the U.S. and France. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You, and is currently working on her next book, a literary memoir entitled “A Long Way from Iowa.”

February 22, 2021 at 9:31 am Leave a comment

France: The Vaccine Arrives

Keep your distance til you get that vaccine, everyone!

Well, here we are. The coronavirus vaccine has arrived in France, and it is being slowly (quite slowly!) distributed. In fact, according to doctors, nurses, and other health care workers, as well as many mayors of French cities and villages, it is being distributed way too slowly. 😦

Having been so impressed at the way the French government handled things back in March when the pandemic first hit here, it has been both disappointing and surprising to see that the response, starting last fall, has not been all that impressive. I was in a Parisian hospital one day last September and I overheard two doctors talking as they walked by. One of them was saying “Macron fait un peu Trump…” (Macron is acting a bit like Trump), and added something about how halfway measures don’t really work, the response to a pandemic has to be clear, decisive, and aggressive. (Kind of the way it was back in March, in other words…)

The reason for this conversation is probably that since sometime in September the number of cases was mounting in France, and many experts felt that it was time for another lockdown. However, the lockdown, when it finally came at the end of October, was both later than it should have been, and also a pretty confusing one. It was billed as “confinement lite” (not officially, but informally people were calling it that); and the main result seems to have been not all that much confinement, and (not surprisingly) not all that much success in keeping the numbers down either.

I won’t go into the boring details, but suffice it to say that I think most people in France would have preferred something both clearer and more effective. I do understand that the government is reluctant to add to the already really serious economic consequences of lockdown, however. It’s a difficult problem, to say the least.

As for the slow start on vaccination, as with most things in France, the reasons behind this matter are of course “compliqué.” (There is a whole chapter in my book, titled “A Passion for Complication.” There’s a reason for that! 🙂

My son, who is most of the time a fairly enthusiastic francophile, has nonetheless been both frustrated and bewildered by the slowness of the distribution of the vaccine. He asked his best friend here why it was taking France so long to get the vaccines going. (The comparison with other countries is really kind of embarrassing.) She said there were primarily two reasons: 1) logistique (which I gather has to do not only with distribution of the vaccine, but also the need to keep the vaccines at a very low temperature while transporting and storing it, as well as many important details of how to safely and effectively administer it); and 2) the government’s desire to not have people think they are moving too quickly with a new vaccine. This is probably related to the fact that apparently 60 percent of the French public is somewhat resistant to the idea of taking vaccines in general and this one in particular.

Well, this has led to a great many long and interesting conversations on French television and radio. And in listening to these sources of information, I have learned yet another reason for the slow start, which goes back to that same chapter in my book. That is the fact that, as French commentators have been noting, the procedure for getting permission for the elderly living in nursing homes to receive the vaccine, for example, is, yes, extremely complicated, perhaps even too complicated. They have even said that this is “typically French,” with a typically Gallic shrugging of their shoulders. (They have said it, not me! As an American in France who is constantly noting French foibles (though almost always affectionately,) I must say it is rewarding to have French people agree with me. 🙂 )

Here’s a little video clip to illustrate what I mean, for those of you who speak French. (For those of you who don’t, one of the most revealing bits in the clip is that getting consent for giving the vaccine to the elderly was explained in a 45-page document delivered to the nursing homes of France on Christmas Eve, about 3 days before the campaign was to begin (!)

On the other hand, I must say that given the vociferous, and mostly united and very strong criticism of the slow-as-molasses approach initially taken by the government–the words injustifiable and inexcusable are among the adjectives that I have heard frequently in recent days–they have been very quick to respond to the criticism and change course. Yesterday the Minister of Health announced that the government was going to immediately “amplifier, accelerer, and simplifier” the process. The initial result of this will mean, for one thing, that health care workers over 50 will be moved to the front of the line.

It only makes sense, doesn’t it?!?!?!

So anyway. That is the main news from my little perch in France this week. I will say that the concerns about a new surge of COVID cases following the holidays has seemed to inspire more or less universal respect for and practicing of les gestes barrieres. Almost everyone is wearing masks, almost everywhere, including here in Essoyes. And I assume they are also taking the other precautions–washing hands, keeping physical distance, and so on. Nobody wants to see “the Thanksgiving effect” (pronounced here as “l’effet Sanksgeeveeng”) that was seen in the U.S. take hold here.

Fingers crossed. Stay safe, stay well, everyone. Wear those masks, and until the vaccine has a chance to work, stay home as much as you can. The vaccine is here, and eventually things will get better…right????

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the U.S. and France. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You, and is currently working on her next book, a literary memoir entitled “A Long Way from Iowa.”

January 6, 2021 at 3:53 pm Leave a comment

Allègement de confinement and freedom of the press…

Essoyes: Allègement de Confinement Photo by Janet Hulstrand

The gradual loosening of the restrictions of movement (l’allègement de confinement) that were reintroduced in France at the end of October have begun. Starting Saturday, shops were able to open again, with very strict rules and requirements designed to avoid an increase in COVID infections while slowly, carefully reopening the economy.

Last week President Macron addressed the nation again (I think it was his fifth time?) since the pandemic took hold in France last spring. This time the message was a bit more clear than the last time: this time, unlike in the spring, déconfinement will take place in stages, each one contingent upon reaching the government’s target for reducing the number of cases.

In addition to shops reopening, we are now allowed to travel a whoppin’ 20 kilometers from our homes in search of fresh air and exercise, and to stay out for a maximum of 3 hours (up from the 1 kilometer/1 hour limit) required during the past month. It is hoped that by Christmas people will be able to travel to be with their families in small groups, but it was also made clear that this also will depend on how well the nation does at following the rules that are essential in order to keep the numbers of infection down enough to reach the December 15 goal.

Many restrictions remain: for example, we still have to have attestions every time we venture out; curfews have been reinstated for the whole of France; and bars and restaurants will remain closed until at least January 20.

It’s a funny thing about those attestations: there are just nine very specific reasons that travel or any other activity outside the home is permitted. You have to choose what the reason is for your sortie and check just one box in order to have the attestation considered valid. I just want to say that in its rigidity, this is typically French! I am quite sure if the U.S. had such a system (and clearly they never will), you would at least have the option of checking “other” for those things which probably are permissible but do not easily fit into one of the nine categories. (!)

Anyway. Saturday was a beautiful day here in Essoyes, so people were out rejoicing in their new freedom. (It’s amazing how liberating it feels to be able to go 20 kilometers and stay out for 3 hours when you’ve only been allowed a tiny fraction of that freedom for a whole month!)

Meanwhile, in Paris the atmosphere was not very happy, nor very peaceful. The Macron administration recently proposed a new law (the loi de sécurité globale) that met with massive disapproval by the thousands of people who demonstrated the past two Saturdays in cities across France. The most troubling aspect of the new law was contained in the infamous Article 24, which would forbid the filming of police. (There was a bit more nuance to the language than that, but make no mistake: the intent was to keep members of the press, and regular citizens as well, from filming incidents of police misconduct and even brutality.) Journalists of course were vigorously opposed to such a constraint on freedom of the press, and many regular citizens joined with them in protesting furiously, and in very large numbers.

The protests were successful in getting the government to withdraw the hotly contested article. But one thing that became abundantly clear in the widespread discussion of this issue is that France is definitely in need of police reform. It’s hard to imagine what could have more clearly proven this need, and also the need for the right for citizens to document police brutality, than a video that showed three policemen violently beating a music producer they had followed into his studio, and that became public early last week.

The demonstrations on Saturday were intended to be peaceful, and mostly they were: but there were a frightening number of demonstrators, journalists, and police injured in the violence that erupted as the peaceful demonstrators were joined by not-peaceful-at-all casseurs. 😦 And there were indeed some unacceptable acts of violence committed by the police.

Protesting the loi sécurité globale in Paris November 28, 2020. Photo by Phineas Rueckert.

As a left-learning observer of the French political scene, I find it disappointing to watch Macron shift ever more toward the right. One of his strengths (and the reason he won the presidency) is that in 2017, he created a more or less centrist coalition. It is of course hard to remain in the center when you have extreme elements pulling hard from both the right and the left end of the spectrum; and even the temptation to shift a bit to the right is somewhat understandable given the problems with terrorism that France has suffered in recent years, and particularly in recent weeks. But I do hope he will find a way to recapture the spirit of cooperation and mutual respect–and a return to the middle at least!–that is going to be necessary in order to get through what is clearly a difficult time in France.

Back here in Essoyes it is more quiet. It is the time of year when some villagers are heading into the forest to collect wood for their fires. Yes, there is something here called affuage which basically means, in this context, the right to gather wood from certain specific little sections of the national forest. Everyone who lives in Essoyes has this right, plus an assigned piece of the forest in which they are allowed to cut and gather wood. As a homeowner here, I too have this right, though it is not one I am exercising. I am very proud of the fact that I’ve managed to learn to be pretty good at stacking wood (thanks to the helpful guidance I received from Cody at wrangler.com 🙂 ) And I have a very nice exploiteur who brings me the wood I need every winter. I had hoped to advance to splitting wood by now, but I’m not sure I will ever be able to add that to my list of lumberjack skills. One thing at a time…

We’re heading into that time of year when at least several of the world’s religions celebrate the concept of light shining through the darkness, drawing on pagan traditions that did the same thing. It’s a good time of year to do so, and I daresay a good year in which to do it.

Photo by Janet Hulstrand

Wishing you and yours a peaceful, happy, safe, healthy holiday season, however and wherever you celebrate it, and even if you don’t.

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the U.S. and France. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You, and is currently working on her next book, a literary memoir entitled “A Long Way from Iowa.”

December 1, 2020 at 4:56 pm 2 comments

A different kind of Thanksgiving…

Over the years, my faithful pilgrims have celebrated Thanksgiving with me, friends, and family in Brooklyn, Washington D.C., Silver Spring, and Essoyes…

It’s less than a week to Thanksgiving, and only a few weeks away from Christmas. And there’s a lot of agony (both in my homeland of the U.S., and in France) about whether people will be able to celebrate these wonderful holidays in the way to which we are accustomed this year.

I do understand the agony: these are my two favorite holidays and I love celebrating them in the way we usually do. Here is a post I wrote just last year about last Thanksgiving, which I celebrated with my sons and some friends here in France.

But here is the problem this year. The problem is the pandemic. We all know this!

And here is my own unscientific (but based on what I have been able to learn from the scientists) view of why we should NOT celebrate either of these holidays in the way we are accustomed to doing, not this year.

Let’s line up some of the main features of how we celebrate these holidays:

We travel long distances among crowds of other people to be together with those we love;

We get together (inside) with large numbers of people where we sing, dance, and linger over tables full of food that we share with each other.

We sit together for hours at a table enjoying eating, talking, laughing, telling stories.

(All activities, by the way, that prevent the all-important wearing of masks and tend to ignore the rules of physical distancing…)

On top of it, we do all this at a time of year when the weather is not good, lots of people are getting sick, and in the month prior to the statistically highest month of the year for deaths. (!)

What is wrong with all of this, in terms of containing a pandemic?

Well, just about everything, really. So to me it seems the answer is pretty clear: if we want most (or ideally, all) of the members of our family to make it through to next Thanksgiving and Christmas, most of us should probably exercise delayed gratification this year.

Delayed gratification is a concept that is very difficult for children to understand or accept, but it shouldn’t really be that hard for the rest of us, right?

We are lucky to be able to substitute alternative ways of celebrating these holidays together this year: most of us can Zoom with as many people as we like. We can tell stories, laugh, and sing if we want via Zoom, all without endangering ourselves or anyone else.

We can put up the decorations that cheer us (like my silly cardboard Pilgrims shown above, one of my Thanksgiving traditions).

We can buy and enjoy an excellent feast for one, or two, or three (whomever we are spending our time with already, in quarantine) from a local restaurant that is able to safely prepare food for us. (They need our help!!!!)

And we can read poetry or stories to each other that remind us of all we have to be thankful for–including the hope of a vaccine to come soon, thanks again to the scientists among us.

Here is one of my favorite Thanksgiving poems, “A Minnesota Thanksgiving,” by John Berryman.

If we are allowed to be with each other, in small groups, we should also take whatever precautions we can to ensure that we won’t be sorry we did so–whether that means getting tested before seeing each other, wearing masks even inside our homes, and not hugging each other, which is in my opinion one of the hardest things about all of this. (My sons and I have developed an alternative: hugging oneself while standing at a safe distance from each other. Like this…)

I know…it looks like we’re members of a cult. But we’re not. We’re just demonstrating how you can hug yourself when you’re not allowed to hug each other 🙂

It’s certainly not as good as the old-fashioned way, but at least you get hugged! And it’s safer…

Wishing everyone a safe, happy, healthy Thanksgiving…and hoping for a return to a more traditional celebration next year!

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the U.S. and France. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You, and is currently working on her next book, a literary memoir entitled “A Long Way from Iowa.”

November 20, 2020 at 1:18 pm 3 comments

Reconfinement: Here we go again…

Me and my boys together, observing les gestes barrieres.

The numbers are high, too high. The curfew wasn’t really helping anything. (Honestly, very few people thought that it would.) And so we have been confined to our homes again. We have to carry attestations, explaining why we are leaving our homes if we are leaving them, and there are only a certain number of reasons that are acceptable for doing so. Many stores, and all restaurants and bars are closed. We have to stay within a kilometer of our homes. And so on…

This confinement is supposed to be “different” (i.e. less confining) than the one last spring. I’m not sure it really is less confining, but it certainly is more confusing. Never mind the details: they are, well, confusing…

However, the main idea is clear. Stay home. Be careful. Wear masks. Wash hands, don’t touch face. Etc.

And the purpose is certainly clear: to keep as many people as possible safe, and healthy. And to keep the hospitals from becoming overcrowded, and healthcare workers able to do their jobs without becoming totally exhausted.

So, okay. Deep breath. On y va encore…(or should I say on y reste encore?)

And once again, I must acknowledge this important fact: if one has to be confined somewhere, I have very little to complain about.

In fact, I have absolutely nothing to complain about.

Stay well, everyone. Et prenez soin de vous…

A field of winter wheat, within a kilometer of my home. Photo by Janet Hulstrand.

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the U.S. and France. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You, and is currently working on her next book, a literary memoir entitled “A Long Way from Iowa.”

November 1, 2020 at 7:52 pm 2 comments

“Couvre feu” means curfew

And this is what “Haussmanian” means. Photo by Janet Hulstrand

I was in Paris again last week, mainly to see my eye doctor, and get my glasses adjusted to my new post-cataract-surgery vision, but I also had the chance to do a few fun things while I was there: to celebrate a friend’s birthday, to have a couple of meals with my son, to take a turn around the lovely Square du Temple during a break from my work, to attend my friend Adrian Leeds Après-Midi meetup, and see the documentary Meeting Jim, about Jim Haynes.

Life in Paris has changed a bit since I was last there. As the number of COVID cases has started to rise, too quickly for anyone’s comfort, new restrictions, and stronger and more frequent reminders of all the ways we are supposed to be keeping ourselves and everyone else safer are ubiquitous. Every restaurant and cafe that I went to had a bottle of sanitizer on every table, as well as at the entrance to the establishment. Stores and Metro stations also have bottles available as you enter: the ones in the Metro have foot pedals so no one has to touch anything. There are also sign-in sheets in restaurants for anyone coming in a group, which is to make it easy for the establishment to help with contact tracing should the need arise. No group can be larger than six people, and physical distancing rules between tables must be adhered to. And everyone, well, pretty much everyone, is now wearing masks throughout the city, inside and out. If you get caught not wearing one, there’s a hefty 135 euro fee. That helps with compliance!

There was a fair amount of suspense during the few days I was there, since it was announced that President Macron would be addressing the nation again, on Wednesday evening, but not what he would say. So of course everyone was dreading a return to a national general confinement, and the necessity of filling out permission slips if we strayed more than a kilometer from our homes. As it turns out, the most concerning areas, not surprisingly, are nine big cities in France (Paris, Lille, Toulouse, Marseille, Lyon, Montpelier, Grenoble, Rouen, and St. Etienne ), and as of Saturday they were put under a curfew, which means that everyone, with very few exceptions, has to be in their homes, and stay there, from 9 pm until 6 am. The curfew will last at least four weeks, more likely six. (It took me a while to realize that the “couvre feu” I kept hearing about on the radio was the same thing as “curfew.” Voila: another new term learned.)

This of course is very hard on restaurateurs and also anyone in the broad category of culture (theater, music, dance, cinema). I’m not going to try to say whether or not I think this measure will meet the government’s objective. I hope it will, because the idea is to try to keep the hospitals from getting overcrowded, health care workers overwhelmed, and everyone in less danger of the virus spreading. One can only hope…

Anyway, I left Paris one day before the curfew began, so I didn’t get to see the unusual sight of the “City of Light” suddenly quiet and dark at 9 pm.

On Sunday I had the chance to talk about my book, Demystifying the French with the wonderful Jennifer Fulton of Bonjour Books DC, in Kensington, Maryland, just outside of Washington D.C. Jennifer had gathered a great group via Zoom, and we had lots of fun discussing with them the finer points of how to appreciate the French, and how to learn and understand the rules that guide their behavior.

You can buy my book, and a host of other wonderful books (mostly in French, but also some books about France in English) from Jennifer online, and I urge you to do so. She is, as an indie bookseller, one of the champions in the world of publishing. And we readers (and writers) need to support our champions!

And so I am back to my quiet life in a little village in Champagne. The trucks going up the hill alongside our road are mostly hauling wood now, and my wood for the winter has been delivered: so I have my work cut out for me, to get it properly stacked.

Wednesday was a national day of homage and mourning in France, after a horrific act of terrorism took place last week in a town not far from Paris. A middle school history teacher was brutally murdered in the street as he was walking home from school. I won’t go into the awful details of what happened; there’s a pretty good account here. I will say that this tragedy is one more symptom of a terribly difficult, complex social and cultural problem in France, and a subject that is very difficult to discuss with the calm perspective that will surely be needed in order to begin to solve it, though people are certainly trying. It was, among other things, an attack on one of the most beautiful aspects of French culture–that is, respect for the life of the mind, and the ability to debate controversial topics in a way that is intellectually challenging, reasonable, respectful, rational, and sound.

It was also the tragic loss of a husband, father, and much beloved teacher who was devoted to his work, teaching French youth about those values. It is hard to know what to say. It is very, very sad. The teacher was, as President Macron said in his homage to him, “un hero tranquille” (a quiet, peaceful hero). He will be sorely missed, but it is clear from the testimony of his students that Samuel Paty, and his deep belief in tolerance, understanding, respect for others, and the importance of the continuing pursuit of knowledge will not be forgotten. And the lessons he taught, and the values he inspired in hundreds of students over the years will live on.

Autumn. Photo by Janet Hulstrand


Janet Hulstrand
 is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the U.S. and France. She is the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You, and is currently working on her next book, a literary memoir entitled “
A Long Way from Iowa.”

October 23, 2020 at 6:28 am Leave a comment

Déconfinement, Paris-style

It was time for another trip to Paris last week, and oh how lovely (and interesting! and joyful!) to be there again…

Continue Reading July 4, 2020 at 7:53 am Leave a comment

Déconfinement continued…

I could start by saying I’ve found it hard to know what to say about anything recently. The words of the poet W. B. Yeats come frequently to my mind about “the center not holding…” It does feel like the world as we have known it is coming apart at the seams, which is unsettling…

Continue Reading June 25, 2020 at 9:33 am 1 comment


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