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 In HearSway

Eight months ago, Sway team member Melissa Kohlman’s family PCS’d to Paris, France. Two months later, the city went into lockdown.

Being confined to your apartment can’t be too bad when you can see the Eiffel Tower from your window, right? Turns out, even that gets old. And as Americans are emerging from the black hole of coronavirus cases and never-ending restrictions, the city of Paris is once again tightening up.

We caught up with Melissa to see what life is like, 6.5 months since restrictions began.

S: Why are You in Lockdown Now?

M: Everyone back home is asking why — it’s because the ICU in Paris is back at 110 percent capacity. The numbers are now the same as they were in October and November.

What the Hell is Going On?

For so long, I joked about how France has its shit together — stores closed, people followed the mandates, and cases fell. But the Parisians just aren’t getting vaccinated and so every time restrictions loosen, cases skyrocket. My American feed is full of people showing off their vaccination stickers and celebrating getting their shot. I see nothing like that from people I’ve connected with in Paris, and not just because vaccines here are in very short supply.

It’s weird, because people in France really follow the rules — and no one hesitates to shout at you if you’re wearing a mask incorrectly — but vaccines are just not part of the culture like they are in America.

To get my son vaccinated for school I had to call the doctor, get a prescription, fulfill the prescription at a pharmacy, go home, put the vaccine in my fridge and wait until I could bring it to his next doctor’s appointment. I feel like I could have just stuck it in his arm myself and saved time.

During periods of loser quarantine restrictions Melissa and the fam have been making the most of time outside, like this skiing trip in the Alps.

What’s Lockdown Like?

We’re allowed to be out, within 10 kilometers of your home, as long as you have an ID. If you go further than that, you have to have an attestation, and yes there are checkpoints.

I went to the grocery store and had to fill out a 4-page form so they could make sure I wasn’t 10 kilometers away from my residence. It’s time stamped and comes with a QR code so any officer who scans it can see where you’re coming from and what you’re doing.

I was walking the dog the other day and saw a guy running down the street with a piece of paper. I immediately thought “Did someone drop something?” “Is there an emergency?” No, it was just a guy running with his permission slip. It’s insane.

In America, I feel like you could be like, “I don’t have my paper,” or some other “dog ate my homework” excuse, but that wouldn’t fly here. The first time you’re caught without ID or paperwork you’re fined 150 euros; the second time, that fine is doubled; third time is up to 60 days in jail.

The only customers that Parisian restaurants have had inside since October.

Are Businesses Closed, Too?

We haven’t been able to go to a restaurant, café, or bar since October. A 6 p.m. curfew in effect since Dec. 15 has just been extended to 7 p.m. Only businesses deemed essential have been allowed to be open — and businesses who also sell non-essential items have those parts of the store blocked off. In January, stores 32,000 square feet or larger had to close.

How Are They Surviving?

The government has been giving businesses 80 percent of last year’s profits, so there’s none of the small-town panic that I’ve been seeing back home. A lot of restaurants have stayed open for takeout and delivery because they want to, not because they feel like they have to.

France has also blocked purchases of non-essential items like toys from Amazon and Walmart, which has also helped protect small businesses.

Melissa gets lit — literally — at home on her birthday.

What’s the Vibe in the City?

It’s really intense here. Paris is very dreary, dark and grey during the winter — it shares a latitude line with Seattle. Now that it’s lovely out, it’s harder to stay in. In France, Easter is as big of a holiday as Christmas, and they’ve been advertising it since before Valentine’s Day. Now, everything is canceled, and it’s hard to stay positive when there’s no end in sight.

Throughout the past few months in America, you could still travel, still go to the beach, etc. There are people here who haven’t seen their families in over a year. Military life has helped prepare me for this, but I can see it having an effect on the people here as they face another missed birthday, another holiday celebration.

When they announced new restrictions there was a 436-kilometer traffic backup caused by people fleeing the city, either going to country homes or crossing the border into Switzerland, where rules are more relaxed.

Quarantined and unable to perform, @rockbunnyparis has become a star of Melissa’s neighborhood, especially after Melissa’s video of him playing the national anthem went viral on Instagram.

How are You Dealing?

Luckily, the wine here is really cheap and everyone drinks all the time, so that helps. I’ve also been doing a lot of puzzles and reading a ton of books — plus taking Zoom cooking classes.

But, I feel so connected to home, it’s a bit like I’m in the Twilight Zone. I see my friends at the Growler drinking beer and it’s hard to believe that they are sitting outside at a restaurant. That they are actually in that chair, that their hand is actually holding that beer.

When our curfew got extended an hour, we went to the park with friends and stayed out until 7 p.m., and it was NUTS. We felt WILD. I realize now that sounds really depressing, but we’re trying to make the best of all the little moments we get.


Follow Melissa’s adventures in Paris @melissagetsfrancey.

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