Like many, I experienced some major disappointments as a result of COVID-19. I had to take my final undergraduate exams online, I wasn’t able to celebrate finishing my undergraduate degree with my friends, my graduation was postponed, my long-awaited month-long choir tour to New Zealand and Australia was cancelled – you get the picture. The one thing, however, which made all of this slightly more bearable, was that I got to spend lockdown in Switzerland. I flew back to Geneva the day after the Swiss Government announced all ski resorts were being shut, but the day before the French Government announced their ski resorts were shutting, so my plane was half empty (or half full for the hopeful British skiers still heading to the French Alps). It felt like a bit of a risk leaving my bubble in Durham to go back to my parents’ home in Switzerland when at the time, there were more cases in Switzerland than in the UK, and the country’s proximity to Italy was very worrying.
However, the Swiss Government’s attitude towards the pandemic can be summed up by a statement made by Alain Berset, the Swiss Health Minister, at the very beginning of lockdown: “Il faut agir aussi vite que possible, mais aussi lentement que nécessaire”, which translates into English as “we must act as quickly as possible, but as slowly as necessary”. This statement has in fact become so iconic in Switzerland that someone has managed to make a small fortune by selling t-shirts with these words on them!
The Swiss were very calm and efficient in the way they went about introducing restrictions, and indeed lifting them as well; they didn’t rush to lift any restrictions unnecessarily and reviewed the situation every three weeks to see whether or not it was appropriate to lift the next set of restrictions. I was particularly impressed by and grateful for the government’s transparency; the updates that were put out before each set of restrictions was lifted clearly explained what we were and weren’t allowed to do (as you can see in the photo below), and the exact date that changes were being made.
COVID-19 hasn’t completely disappeared from Switzerland, but I’d say it has successfully been contained so far and life is slowly but surely going back to normal. So, whilst many of my friends are still experiencing the frustrations of lockdown in the UK, I thought I’d provide a glimpse of the mysterious ‘new normal’ which many countries, including Switzerland, are entering.
Here is a brief list of strange or new things that I have found myself doing in the ‘new normal’:
- Comparing the quality of hand sanitiser provided by different shops and judging which ones smells the most like fatal nights out – so far Fust (an electricals shop) wins for me with their hand sanitiser which might as well have been a bottle of tequila…
- On a similar note – popping into more expensive shops and pretending to be interested in what they’re selling just to use their better-quality hand sanitiser and get that tequila smell off my hands!
- Waiting for half an hour in a queue for a shop fitting room even though there are only 5 people in the whole shop…
- Being relieved that I have to wear a mask to the hairdresser’s – for the first time, I haven’t had to awkwardly smile at the hairdresser for the duration of my appointment!
- Discovering nature in my local area – this may seem like an obvious one and probably something that many people are doing already but there are so many hidden gems everywhere!
- Planning a staycation – why not be a tourist in your own country for the summer…
- Being the only person or group in a restaurant and it being at maximum capacity – small and cosy cafes can now be your own private dining experience!
There are obviously many more elements that make the ‘new normal’ very different to what we’re used to, but it is interesting to take a step back and compare the two realities. However, whilst it can be fun to analyse your own new behaviour, it is also very important to remember that everyone will adapt to the ‘new normal’ at their own speed – even different members of your own household – and that people should not feel pressured into doing anything if they don’t feel ready to. Just as the sudden restrictions may have been hard to get used to, so will the gradual easing of restrictions. Go out, have fun and laugh at some of your strange and ridiculous new behaviour, but be mindful and considerate of the different speeds at which people will adapt to the ‘new normal’.
Emily is 21 years old and has just finished her undergraduate degree in French and Spanish at Durham University. She is currently at her parents’ home in Switzerland and will start an MPhil in Education (Research in Second Language Education) at the University of Cambridge in October.