Social Distance: What Happens Next?

A dispatch from the near future

The pandemic is hitting the whole world—but some countries are feeling the brunt of the coronavirus earlier than others. Rachel Donadio, a contributing writer to The Atlantic, is based in France, which is slightly ahead of the United States. On this episode of Social Distance, Rachel joins us to talk about how different countries are approaching the crisis.

Listen to the episode here:

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Here are some highlights from the interview with Rachel Donadio:

  • “There’s a word in French called décalage—it sounds better in French, of course, because it’s French—which basically means ‘a lag.’ It’s like that lag between when something happens in one place and before it arrives in another place. So it’s like the same word for jet lag, you know. And on Friday, March 6 … Emmanuel Macron, the president of France, went to the theater with his wife and said, “We must support cultural institutions.” So it was only in the days after that when I got the sense that it was coming to France. It took about a week or 10 days for France to catch up in terms of public perception, in terms of government action. And, you know, in terms of the exponential rise in the number of cases.”
  • “So before I leave the house, I sign and print this piece of paper that says either I’m going for exercise or for food, or sometimes I check off both of them. You can, like, checkmark them. And I haven’t been stopped yet by police, but they have been stopping people and handing out fines. The atmosphere here is really quiet. It’s not as quiet as Italy is from the reports I’m hearing from my friends there, who don’t even leave the house anymore. But it’s super quiet, like, public transportation as of this week—massively, massively scaled back. I saw one bus go by today, and no one was in it … It just feels very, very somber and quiet.”
  • “Frankly, this is a very painful thing to watch, especially the way the government in the U.S. has handled this … just being far away and knowing this is arriving in the States and hearing the president say things that aren’t true and don’t make sense. It’s very painful to watch that. You know, I feel like, as someone who’s lived abroad for quite a long time, I think I always had this sense that America—my home country, my passport, where I grew up—was a place that I could go back to and seek refuge in. And I’m more worried about how America is handling this, frankly, than I am about how many European countries are handling it. And that’s a very hard thing to feel. You know, it’s kind of the end of a lot of illusions.”