Life lately: first trip to France in 6 months and new safety measures at the office

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I live a 30-minute bus ride away from France and used to cross into the country regularly. From March through August, though, I stayed away. The situation was confusing and ever-evolving: first the borders were closed altogether, then you were allowed to enter again, but needed to have an attestation for what you intended to do in France, and now the Swiss government has imposed a quarantine requirement on travelers returning from some French departments but not others. Paris, sadly, is now off-limits, while the border regions remain in the green zone. For now.

On the last day of August, I took the train to Lyon to run some personal errands. Before we even crossed into France — before we were even allowed to access the train platform in Geneva — we had to go through Swiss customs at the station. The officer checked my passport and my residency card, and asked where I was headed. There was no corresponding check on the French side.

Similar to what I observed in Italy, every other seat on the train was blocked off.

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I call this one “The Masked Passengers”.

I had been to Lyon a few times before, once for a day trip and other times as a connection point for other trips, like Brussels. This was the first time I really saw Lyon from the perspective of a ‘local’, rather than a tourist.

To be honest, Lyon is not one of my favorite places. People go on and on about how it’s the culinary capital of France, which could very well be true, but for those of us who are not foodies, there’s less appeal. It’s the type of city that defies those romantic Instagram stereotypes about what France is like. Poop and dead rats on the sidewalk. The neighborhoods are highly segregated; one block will consist only of white people, and the next will be only African migrants. You can literally observe people consciously and deliberately engineering their walk so that they don’t cross into the ‘other’ neighborhood (and this goes both ways).

Also, people in Lyon can be kind of brusque and don’t love it when you ask them to repeat themselves because their spoken French was too fast for you, especially when muffled behind a mask. I’m not a hardened badass; it genuinely causes me embarrassment and distress when people are rude to me, and I can get hung up thinking about these brief interactions over and over for years. I was relieved to return to my cozy Swiss bubble at the end of the day.

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Reading to pass the time at a cafe before my appointment. This place is super cute! It’s a short walk from the train station and right next door to Les Halles, Lyon’s famed indoor market, full of independent grocers, butchers and fromageries. It’s bright, spacious, and the staff is really nice. (I swear, with the Lyonnais it’s always a crapshoot…)
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This PSA urges residents to dispose of their masks properly — in waste bins rather than littering them on the street.
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Speaking of masks, instead of mandating them across the board, Lyon has set up designated ‘mask zones’ in the busiest parts of town. I don’t think the enforcement was all that effective, because only about 60% of the people in those zones were actually wearing their masks.
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About to cross into the central shopping district, a ‘mask zone’. You can see the banner just to the left of that bus.
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I also dropped by the Supermarché International in Lyon, which was so well-stocked with an abundance of (mostly Chinese) products that it made me want to cry. Clockwise from left, if you’re curious: dried plums; beef ramen; indigowoad root tea for treating colds; mushroom chicken ramen; spicy sauce; and rock sugar. Essentials for the Chinese home!

The train station in Lyon was densely packed, per usual. My biggest tip: grab a bite or coffee nearby and don’t show up until 15 minutes prior to boarding. This is not one of those train stations, like Paris or Milan, where you can find a cute cafe to sit and wait. There absolutely will not be a place to sit anywhere in the station, and you’ll find yourself constantly dodging people flying by with suitcases. The physical distancing floor markers were only moderately effective.

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So that was Lyon. Here are some more random things that happened in September.

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I got a Ratatouille decal off Etsy for my kitchen door. I love this movie because it’s such an intimate love letter to Paris and captures all the things I adore about the city. Yes, Paris also has its flaws like Lyon, but at least the nice parts make up for it?
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On the days I work from home, I’ve been slacking a lot on exercise. Sometimes I don’t go outside for days at a time. One day I decided to go out early before work and take a walk by the lake. Geneva is so calm and relaxing in the early morning, before all the traffic and motorcycles kick in.
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New rules at the post office, AGAIN. There are now different lines for cases (buying boxes for shipping), postomat (the Swiss-French word for post office ATMs; regular ATMs are called Bancomats), and guichets (when you need to speak to someone at a counter).
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This is one of my favorite French-made beverages that I’ve discovered since moving here. They’re not TOO sweet; there’s a distinctly medicinal taste. And the bottles are made from glass, so it’s easier to recycle them.
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Fall and winter are going to be really tough this year, and every little bit helps… like these fuzzy boots on sale from MUJI.

Earlier this month I convened a small meetup to talk about racism in Europe. As someone who brings a largely American perspective but knows admittedly little about racism, xenophobia and colorism in most other countries, I came to this meeting with an open mind and definitely left with a wealth of new knowledge. For instance, I learned that the Indian government pays a ‘reward’ to citizens who marry outside their caste. Another person shared what it was like growing up in England in the 60s with a Black father and a white mother; people called them the n-word and once tried to burn down their house.

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Walking back from the meetup, I stopped to peruse this photography exhibit on HIV/AIDS by the lake.

In September, my office introduced newer, stricter safety measures in response to the recent rise in cases. We are now required to wear a mask every time our butts leave the chair. Making coffee, getting lunch, meeting with a colleague — all of that now requires a mask. Our custodial, grounds and security colleagues have been wearing masks 24/7 since they came back to work in May, so it’s only fair that the rule extend to the rest of us, too. Instead of surgical or fabric masks, though, we have to wear these N95 masks. They’re very stiff and will leave grooves in your face after prolonged wear.

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I’ve written before about how often my phone acts up when I’m at the office, because when I get too close to the lake shared by Switzerland and France, my mobile carrier assumes I’m hopping back and forth across the border. Well, now I’m getting multiple messages a day reminding me to check quarantine requirements, because according to my phone I’ve just returned from France.
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As long as I can get my oat milk latte fix au bureau, I’m happy.
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I also tuned into a zero waste workshop done entirely in French, of which I understood a surprising amount! I am planning to reduce my patronage of big-chain supermarkets and transition more towards independent, organic and plastic-free grocers. Honestly, the only thing stopping me from doing this is my fear of having to speak in French extensively with the grocers, especially in the beginning when you don’t know how things work and have to figure out how to refill, what containers are needed, etc. But my French teacher told me that there are actually some shops that function more like traditional supermarkets. My goal for October is to go to at least 1-2 of these shops and see what happens.

2 comments

  1. That picture of rock candy just took me back!!! I love sugar so I used to eat those things straight from the box like candy haha. Also I was cracking up at your phone thinking you’re in France when you’re at the office because your views on my blog always track as France, not Switzerland

    Like

    • That is so funny because there’s a running joke in the rest of Switzerland that Geneva is really just part of France… but I don’t think the Genevois appreciate it very much, they’re still salty about being invaded by the French hundreds of years ago!

      Liked by 1 person

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