I rang the bell with my sleeve covering my hand and stood a very safe three metres back from the door. My two friends, who had come to collect me from the train station, were standing another two metres behind me. My mother swung the door open, offended by our social distancing efforts and shouted: “I don’t have the plague, you know!”
She did have the plague. That’s what it felt like anyway.
The day before I arrived home in Luxembourg, I gave a motivational speech to my roommate about how we were going to stick it out. “Sure, it is not what you would usually expect on Erasmus in Paris, but how many people get to live that experience, man? It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity! It’s our obligation!” Twenty minutes later, I got a call from a friend. She made me realise how stupid I was being. I thought I would thrive in Paris without my family, forgetting that I am essentially a large child.
So we changed tactic. My roommate booked his flight for the next day. I booked a train back to Luxembourg. We opened a bottle of wine, blared some intense music and pulled our suitcases down from the shelf.
Our neighbours from upstairs came at 8pm to watch Emmanuel Macron address the nation. We greeted them by touching elbows and kept our distance. “We are at war”, was the mantra of this speech. We were informed that France was going to go on lockdown from 12pm the following day. You would not be able to leave the house without a declaration of travel.
The next day, I went around the apartment taking dramatic photos on black and white film and just generally feeling sorry for myself. I said goodbye to my roommate and trundled out the door with a very poorly packed suitcase. The combination of day drinking and the feeling of impending doom did not help my already poor packing skills.
The feeling in the street was hostile. In that moment, everyone became a threat. The war that Macron told us to fight wasn’t against something tangible but a silent, invisible enemy that you could be carrying around with you and yet be totally unaware.
At no point in my short life had I ever been so confronted with my own privilege. “War” was declared and all I had to do was pack up, jump on a train and spend a couple of weeks hanging out at my parents’ house. Pretty cushy – besides the fact that my mother had coronavirus and I was scared shitless. Luckily, she recovered very quickly and now is one of the few people who don’t need to feel paranoid that they could be personally responsible for the death of the nice little old lady they pass in the streets.
From this point it felt like I was living in two different worlds. I had what was going on around me in Luxembourg and then I had the Irish news from my extended family and friends.
In Luxembourg, there was an effort to remain calm. It was all going to be fine! The government set out rules and everyone seemed to be respecting them. The state used its seemingly endless funds to build a temporary hospital facility, which was completed in just 24 hours. The bus stops were plastered with ad campaigns: “I am at home” or in French, “Je suis chez moi”. The ethereal blue of this poster led both my sister and I to read it as “Jesus in my house”.
Everyone knew someone who was giving them the latest update from the army: Ireland was going to be shut down for the next three years – if we were lucky
In Ireland, things seemed a lot more panicked. Everyone knew someone who was giving them the latest update from the army: Ireland will be shut down for the next three years – if we’re lucky. However, I was still proud to be from this little, somewhat dramatic country. These were times when our overreaction would actually be beneficial. We had been training for this. Whether it be the Beast from the East or the shutting down of the 24-hour Krispy Kreme – the Irish people were ready for a fight! Ireland brought in measures far sooner than some other countries, to its credit.
As of early March, when this was first written, Luxembourg had just begun its deconfinement phase. Each resident received 50 masks, was allowed up to six guests and to have gatherings of up to 20 people outdoors. The shops opened, and I could stop trying to convince my little sister to cut my hair as the hairdressers opened too.
Ireland seems much further from that stage. While I wrote this, Provost Patrick Prendergast announced that Trinity’s lectures will still be online next semester. In Luxembourg, some students in their final year of secondary school are already going to classes again and the library will be open to the public in two days.
At the moment, there is no way of knowing which tactic is best. This is new territory for the whole world. In the meantime, at least our dogs are happy to have us home.