Venusiaexpat shares her expat experience in Strasbourg at the time of Coronavirus.
We have been living the expat experience in Strasbourg for almost three years. Strasbourg is in Alsace, in the French Grand East, one of the red areas of the country [at the time of writing, in spring 2020]. We have been at home for 30 days now, and we are very cautious, because hospitals are always close to saturation and some patients need to be evacuated. Like many expats, we are afraid of getting sick, and of not having a solution for our children, should we parents ever be hospitalized.
However, we are lucky because even though we live in the city centre, our building is surrounded by large trees, and we continually hear the singing of many different birds, as well as seeing storks passing by. The sun shines, nature uplifts us, only the ambulances’ sirens that we hear on a regular basis can bring us back to the reason for all this calm.
Expat in Strasbourg
Strasbourg, a pretty and liveable European city, welcomed us very well, as I told some time ago in my article on How do you live in Strasbourg as an Expat. It’s a city that gave us the opportunity to meet people from different countries, to learn a lot about orthodox Jews (we live in the main synagogue district), about Alsatians (this strange mixture of Franco-German culture), and to meet several politicians (as I wrote here: From the right for oneself to rights for all: the expatriation of Cécile Kyenge).
Lockdown right before relocating
We are going through the lockdown in a different way because these are the last months for us here in France. At the end of the school year, we will move elsewhere. This situation causes a series of very special feelings about the strange combination of absolute stillness and imminent mobility. I will try to share some of those.
Our biggest fear (in addition to that related to the virus, which I will not mention here), is that of having to leave without being able to say goodbye to friends.
Some of you can understand this fear, maybe those of you who for example experienced an evacuation. Thinking of having to go from a life full of daily contacts, sought and cultivated with commitment, to never seeing each other again without a hug, a party, a farewell, really creates a void.
This feeling is almost close to that of mourning, and we fear it is the same also for our children. They too have built their network of affections, of daily contacts, and losing them suddenly is a difficult thing to understand for a 7 and s 3 years old.
It is not just the people, even the places seem to escape us, albeit still being close. Like many expats, we too had our own list of places to see before leaving. However, our weekend plans are not just delayed. If we have to leave before life goes back to normal, we will not see these places again. We will not be able to go get our favourite hazelnut pretzel or play at the Petite France park, or to cross the border to Germany via the park des deux rives. We will not take that excursion to Gérardmer, or visit Europapark as we promised to the kids.
Sure, we might come back someday as tourists, but it will not be the same. This week [spring 2020] some family members were also supposed to visit from Italy, and we were all thrilled to show them the city that has hosted us for the last 3 years. This trip is not only postponed. My sister, my nephew and niece, will not see our favourite spots with us, we will not be able to show them our home… These might be small things, but they hurt.
Then there is the anxiety. Anyone who has moved, especially internationally, knows what it means in logistical and organizational terms. Expats know what it means to close things with the school, kindergarten, the house, selling the car, organize the physical relocation of things, organize the trip, prepare for the new house, schools, destination, etc. We cannot arrange many of those things now. We are here, with a long to-do list, not knowing if, how and when we might be able to start dealing with it. I do not hide the fact that sometimes an overwhelming anxiety takes hold of me, which only the acceptance of this temporary impotence can relieve.
In addition, we must deal with the possibility, which got very close a couple of times, of being evacuated overnight by our employers. With an amplification of all the fears I mentioned above …
I have learned that that our children are the best remedy for this anxiety. Their need to deal with the present: the piece of Lego that cannot be found, the red sock that I would like to be blue, the pasta to be shredded, the story to read with the right voice … All this becomes a balm, an exercise in being present here and now.
To be grateful
Finally, I realize that one can only be grateful.
Because all these fears, these anxieties, reveal a rich life. They only exist because in Strasbourg we found welcoming friends, smiling teachers, friendly neighbours, good school friends…
They are the result of falling in love with these places, gardens, vineyards, markets, wines and even the flammkuchen…
They are the result of the fact that we have a place we can call home both here and where we will go …
So here I am, on my little terrace, looking at the roofs of the city, no longer sad, but with a heart full of gratitude.