Dear French Government, . . . [A pandemic plea]
Dear French Government,
How is it that we are still here? My birthday was a year ago, so I know all too well when this all started. I’ve seen amazing progress and hope. That’s why it’s so disappointing to be where we are now. How did we go so far backwards after so much progress? I may be jumping to conclusions, but I can’t help but feel like ego overrode common sense, or common good. Please stick with me.
The thing that is most disappointing is that you’re not saying anything, and when you do say something it says nothing. (See this clip.) What is holding you back from speaking honestly? For saying something? Anything for god’s sake.
I fear there are many assumptions being made. I’d much prefer you stated the obvious, because whatever you’re thinking is not obvious to me. In fact, I’m completely clueless to what you’re thinking. (My best guess is that your strategy is “wait and see.”) I also have no idea how the virus is spreading. I have hunches. You may not know, but is there seriously nothing from all the contact tracing that you could relay to us?
I also wish you would remind people of the steps they should be taking. Heck, you could even SHOW people how to wash their hands. Remind them why to use gel. Everything that has already been said can and should be reinforced.
The other thing that has been missing is what the guidelines are around seeing other people, particularly when it comes to gathering. Over the weekend a friend told me she heard a friend of hers was going to host her lunch despite the new restrictions. Seriously, WTF. The lack of clarity at the moment means that people are writing their own rules (which I’m ALL for, in every context EXCEPT THIS!).
It’s not just about guidelines but could you please communicate THE WHY behind these measures. And I’m talking in a plain English (or however you say “plain French”) kind of way. This is NOT “dumbing things down.” This is making language accessible so people understand feel like they have a stake in what’s going on. (I have a whole lesson on it in my OpenClassrooms course on content strategy, which is all about putting the user first. You have to find a way to talk to them in a way that resonates.)
We’re not only missing clarity, we’re missing motivation. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel. What is the GOAL? REMIND US. Yes, to get rid of Covid, but how are we going to do that? Realistically? Please tell us the steps. Get straight to the point. Tell it to us like we’re 5 year olds. Not only is it more likely to stick that way, but we can help transmit the information forward. It’ll likely be more memorable too.
The fact of the matter is that just because you say something doesn’t mean in will stick with us, so make it “sticky” so we can care about it. Storytelling sounds cliché but hearing stories about real people can help make this abstract virus anchored in some reality. Hearing about that dinner party that turned into a super spreader event, may make a few people wake up.
Perhaps it’d be a good time to remind us about what the “variant” actually means beyond some abstract scientific term. I know I’m terrified of the “long haul” symptoms of Covid, but none of that I have heard about from you, but from my own reading. It may be beneficial to give people a loving reality check that it’s not just some virus. This goes back to not assuming we heard you when you first told us what the virus was. We need reinforcement to make it sink in and keep us abreast of any changes or updates.
When it comes to lockdown something I’m confused about is if there are rules, are they actually enforced? I’m not so sure based on the house parties I hear in my neigborhood most nights. You addressed this during first lockdown, but after that, it feels like you’ve taken an ignorance is bliss approach. I fear the wrong people are getting punished if it is enforced. I wonder how much privilege comes into play in the directions that are ignored, or enforced.
You may know how high our numbers are. I sure do. I check them at 8pm nightly desperately waiting for the day when this is not part of my daily routine. For THREE MONTHS I watched us plateau at ~20k cases a day. That is until it climbed to ~39k cases in a day. Mon dieu! That’s a far cry from the 4k cases a day I was proud of back in December before the trifecta of Christmas, New Years, and Epiphany that sent France into a spiral.
Did you not see this coming, because I sure did! (Also, ask the average person and I suspect they wouldn’t even know where to go to find them. And please don’t go making the assumption that everyone downloaded the anti-Covid app just because you built it).
I also think it’s important to share more than just numbers, but crunch them and give them context. (Thank you, John Lichfield for helping with that.) Just because they make sense to you and seem obvious, doesn’t mean that the rest of us see them with the same clarity. Data tells a story, and help us understand that story. Please. Make it resonate.
Also keep in mind, just because you post the numbers doesn’t mean that people look at them, or know where we stand. More often than not I’d bring up our numbers in conversation here and people—yes, even well educated people—had no idea our numbers were that high. Maybe it’s just all my single friends, who like I, live alone and so we are incredibly conscious of where things stand, and how we are one of the ignored and neglected populations during pandemic times who follow the numbers closely.
I’m not going to lie, up until this point, I not only survived lockdown, but I thrived in lockdown. As a freelancer who has lived alone for a decade, and worked from home for nearly as long, I did have a leg up on many people. I had inadvertently trained for this lifestyle. Still, I don’t know if you can consider that an advantage—for me it was just learning to make the most of the situation.
I can’t even imagine how working parents with stressful jobs and kids are managing at all. Oh, and that 6pm curfew did not make getting anything done any easier, nor did it acknowledge that people had other responsibilities other than being inside at that time. In lockdown 3.0 I feel how they must have been feeling all along: exhausted and drained.
I don’t need you to cover up anything that has already been done. I just ask—I mean BEG—of you to take a look in the mirror and PLEASE change things moving forward. I’m not sure who is on your communication team, but maybe it’d be a good time for some fresh blood (and some diversity of experience that they can bring to the table). For every sentence that is communicated, pause and question, “what is this really saying? How could it be interpreted?”.
Please just tell it to us like it is. Make us believe. Make us want to work for the common good. (Think like a sports coach and this could be our winning game!). Motivate us because we are done motivating ourself. Give us hope. About getting through this. About the vaccines. It’s getting increasingly hard for me to see any light at the end of the tunnel, nor when I’ll next see my family.
Whatever you do, don’t tell us a date, and push it back further. Take a cue from Joe Biden who had a date several months out, but was able to push it forward AND give Americans the hope of being able to spend time in small groups by the 4th of July. You can also check in with us more than every couple months. You’re in charge. You can change the formalities. Keep us in the loop. We can’t help but feel neglected.
By the way, want to know one way you can stand out from other countries—in a good way? Talk about mental health. Address it. Now. Make this pandemic more human. Don’t pretend we’re just going to be able to brush this aside. Three months of 6pm curfew was not good for mental health when I know that going for walks is what keeps me sane. I guess I kind of understood why you did it, but you never actually told me so it became a frustration rather than a force for good.
I know there’s a whole wrapped up in how politics is, but we’ve got to break this cycle of thinking that “C’est comme ça!” because how it is is NOT how it has to be. We all need a wake up call if anything is going to change. Perhaps now would be a good time to change stuffy press conferences highlighting your authority and dominance, and try to be more accessible. There are some risks that do pay off.
Leaders were elected to represent the people, so please take a look beyond yourself and the lifestyle you live. There’s a whole wild world out there. We can help you too, but you’ve got to stop doing things they way they’ve been done before. This is your time to shine, so damn, please do something! ANYTHING. You still have time to turn this thing around, but you can’t do it by thinking with your old fixed mindset.
Yes, I’m disappointed and frustrated because all my friends in the US are getting their vaccines already. I’m also disappointed because no one is going to be able to come visit me for a long time (ironically they haven’t gotten the memo that they’re not going to be welcome in France any time soon).
I assure you, I’m not writing this letter out of my own self pity. I’m writing this for the greater good. I want—and need—the reassurance that others will be OK at the end of this too, not just me. I’m writing this because I care, and I hope you will wake up and take action. A good place to start is with communication.
It’s never too late. As we’ve learned the hard way for the past year, it’s not over until it’s over. It’s game time now. We’re the underdogs. Let’s go get this done!
Avec mes salutations distinguées,
Anne S. Ditmeyer
Anne Ditmeyer is an American by birth, French by hard work who pulls from her design background in her work as a creative coach and workshop facilitator. Join her for her next Write Your Own Rules Workshop on March 26 or March 28th.