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