Alex Gardner has been living through a nationwide lockdown in France for over a week. Her advice? Follow the rules, because actually, it’s not so bad.
It’s official: the UK is in lockdown for – at least – three weeks. For many, this is what they’ve been fearing. Over the last week we’ve seen reports across the news, as well as plenty of Twitter moans that people around the country haven’t been taking social distancing seriously.
There’s been images of parks packed full of picnickers and even in our digital Stylist meetings we’ve been sharing stories of ‘that friend’ who offers to host dinner at their house instead of going to a restaurant. Hmm, that’s not the point…
But now, it’s finally happened. We’ve been told not to leave the house unless it’s for one form of exercise a day, to buy household necessities or because it’s “absolutely necessary” that you still go to work.
But, in times of uncertainty, something that can really help when wandering into the unknown is an insight from someone who has been before you – especially if they can assure you it’s not as bad as you’re imagining.
“Lockdown isn’t as scary as people think it is; you’ve just got to stay in for a bit,” says Alex Gardner to Stylist.co.uk. Gardner is from the UK but lives in the south of France with her husband, where they both work on a boat.
Although people living in the UK are only just dealing with the realities of lockdown, French citizens are well versed with staying inside having been asked by President Macron to self-isolate for two weeks from 16 March.
How it happened
Gardner remembers the moment bars and restaurants were asked to close while she was skiing in Alpe d’Huez on 8 March. “It was like any normal skiing week. There were loads of people in and out of bars, hitting the slopes during the day and boozing at night. The Folie Douce (a well-known apres ski bar) was rammed,” she says.
But in a scene that sounds like it’s come straight from George Orwell’s 1984, Gardner was stopped in her tracks when, while enjoying the bar her friends had just opened, a television announcement declared that all hospitality venues must close that night at midnight.
“At the time I felt disheartened, we were visiting friends who had recently bought a bar and I worried about how they would stay afloat. I went out that night to support them and it was really busy. There were restrictions – 100 people per venue – but every bar in the resort was busy.
“When midnight hit, the bar said a thank you to all the seasonaires, workers and customers who had supported them. And that was that – no more drinks, everyone was kicked out. The police were patrolling the streets to make sure the new rules were followed,” she recalls.
But as Gardner started the five hour drive home she was shocked to see how many cars were going the other way, back towards the mountains to make the most of the slopes still open. This was just the first hint that people weren’t taking the threat of coronavirus seriously, something that would be overwhelmingly obvious in the next week.
“When we got home the promenade near where we live was really busy. There were tourists, locals, families all gathering to go running, cycling and on the beach. There wasn’t a panicked vibe at all and the shops were still full of produce. No one seemed to be panic buying,” Gardner explains.
But even though the atmosphere seemed relaxed over the weekend, by Monday night everything changed: the lockdown was in full force.
From that evening citizens were banned from going further than two kilometres from their homes to exercise and ordered to carry letters to confirm who they are; being stopped by the police for being outside your house became normal.
“Because we work on a boat we have to go to work – there’s no option for me to WFH. On Friday I was cycling into work – 15 minutes behind my husband to stick to the social distancing rule – and I was stopped by the police when I was entering the marina. They asked me where I was going, so I said I was going to work because I worked on a boat. They said that was fine but cycling was forbidden as of today,” Gardner remembers.
“When that happened I started to think, ‘shit this is real now’. We had to carry a letter to say where we were going, our reason for going there and where we’d come from – and if that wasn’t filled out we could be fined on the spot.”
But once the rules had been finalised and Gardner and her partner had begun to get to grips with them, she says it doesn’t feel like a big deal.
Describing the situation in France, Gardner says: “We can still go to the supermarket, it’s just not advised that you go every day.
“When I did my weekly shop pretty much everything was in stock. I think the panic buying in the UK is so unnecessary. The toilet roll situation baffles me.
“The photos that have gone viral of the old people looking at empty shelves is really sad. If that was my nan, I’d be heartbroken.”
She insists that it isn’t as awful as people might imagine, the main thing is to just follow the rules and hope that, if we all stay inside for two weeks we will see a difference.
“My advice to everyone in the UK: stay inside, follow the guidelines and protect your loved ones and the NHS.”