Lifestyle & Culture

Jackie Harding: Learning to live with coronavirus and the new ‘normal’

(Editor’s note: Due to the coronavirus situation, we’re holding our usual weekend travel content. But expat travel writer/photographer Jackie Harding has some thoughts on how much coronavirus has already changed our lives.)

Coronavirus – something I never imagined a few months ago – is now a topic discussed with every friend, in every part of the globe, that I chat to. I try not to immerse myself in the “live” news feeds or the latest statistics but it’s hard not to with the media overload on the subject.

I find myself thinking, “No I’m not going to look at the news.” But then I think maybe I’ll miss something important if I don’t. I yearn for the time when we complained about the constant Brexit news or the latest Harry and Meghan drama … that was so much easier to ignore!

Now when I chat with friends it’s not about the latest movie but what link is useful in creating your own hand sanitizer! Now, we don’t talk about our travel plans for vacations as each time travel is mentioned it comes with an addendum, “… but at the moment, who knows if that will happen?”

God, I even miss talking about the weather!

The new normal

Our lives have changed and this is our new normal for now, or at least for the foreseeable future. We need to adapt so I am:

• No longer snacking on bags of crisps or peanuts with my fingers when hungry and “on the move.” Now I eat one of those self-contained no touching snacks that come in an eco-friendly wrapping ~ a banana.

• Finding myself measuring, subconsciously nose to fingertip, the distance of a metre when socializing and am definitely not doing the Dutch three kisses!

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• Socializing now has a new entertainment though, as we witness various awkward attempts at not shaking hands. I am of the school of a brief raising of the hands in the “yo’” style, none of this complex elbow touching for me. I have also noticed a change in greeting when my husband comes home from work: it’s now “Hi darling … wash your hands before you touch me!”

• I play the “Worse Case Scenario” game, which apparently helps. To say out loud your fears make them sound, at the very least, workable if not ridiculous. “Worse Case Scenario ~ I get really, really sick. Ok, but then I go to hospital and will be cared for by professionals.” See what I mean? Reassuring, right?

• One of my worse case scenarios surprised me though… having to self-isolate with my husband! We would drive each other crazy and one of us (and I’m not saying who) would be found gibbering in the corner. The likelihood of school and university closures must be making any parent of teenagers extremely anxious.

Supporting one another

I’m guessing many expats have concerns, like us, of not being able to get to loved ones in their own countries in an emergency due to border issues, the USA and Italy being good examples. But as time goes on, who knows which countries will make themselves less accessible?

I live in a “vesting” or fortified town so we could “pull up the drawbridges,” although the idea of being “locked down” and having to grind our own wheat by those picturesque windmills and milking the local cows paints an amusing albeit frightening picture … how would we get in the good Belgian beer?

In time we will look back on this world episode much as the population did after the World War I-era Spanish Influenza pandemic I am sure, a mixture of sadness for those lost, relief and lessons learned, hopefully.

Maybe the reduced industry and travel will allow the earth to take a few gulps of fresh air.

Maybe people in public toilets will continue to sing whilst washing their hands for 20 seconds, or even actually continue to wash their
hands although I doubt it!

Maybe our emergency contingency plans will get a fine-tuning and the toilet roll/hand sanitizer/face mask industry will share their profits with those small independent businesses that have been hardest hit.

Yeah right!

Our world is changing socially and economically almost every hour because of coronavirus. What we must do is support each other; think smart about travel and social events; keep up-to-date with information and only use our beleaguered health services when absolutely necessary.

Here’s to clean hands, community spirit and the ability to remain calm when all around us is chaos.

About the author:

Jackie Harding was born in the United Kingdom. As a longtime expat, she’s lived in Boston for 12 years and in the Netherlands for the past nine years.

Trained as a nurse in the U.K., she worked for nine years in the United States as a special education teacher’s assistant. Since moving to the Netherlands, she has discovered writing and photography.

Writing for Dispatches since 2016, Jackie has written about her travels around Europe as well as about expat life and issues.

She also covered the Women’s March Amsterdam.

She’s married to British businessman Martin Harding and is the mother of two international adult children.

You can read more of Jackie’s work for Dispatches here.

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