Society

The Hard Part About Restarting A Social Life After COVID

Friends, colleagues, countrymen: After many long months of distancing, masks, quarantine, curfews and telecommuting, it's time to get back together. Yet re-socializing isn't as simple as it seems.

People sitting on outside terraces in Paris as restaurants and cafés reopen, May 19, 2021.
Jean-Michel de Alberti

Finally, we can clink glasses again! On April 23, Andrew Pero, who works for an English tour operator, met his colleagues at a pub in London's Mayfair district. Once a mundane activity, gathering together around a pint was a grand occasion for these citizens of a country famous for its drinking establishments. "One year without any contact with them other than via a computer... Of course, it's not as spontaneous as before because you have to reserve a table but seeing each other was essential, especially for those who live alone, which is common in a city like London," said Pero. "We work like a big family and we really missed this very British tradition of going to the pub together."

Elsewhere in Mayfair, multi-starred French chef Hélène Darroze met her London teams for the first time in months. "We were not able to celebrate our third Michelin star with the employees of my restaurant in London. Team bonds are so important to our business! We reopened on May 18 at "Connaught" and we are already fully booked for the next few weeks. It's very encouraging for the restaurant business; We all need to get together around the table," says Darroze.

In Tel Aviv, Jonathan Cos has been returning to his chess club since the beginning of April. He had not played against an opponent for months. "I feel alive again. It's important to cultivate one's hobbies, and even to consider practicing new ones. My computer chess board has never replaced the warmth of my neighborhood association. Chess.com distracted me for a while but I lived my passion of chess without affect, without risk, without variety... I also decided to subscribe to other group activities: hikes, cultural visits, painting workshops. I feel a deep need to change the routine of my previous life."

We have become distant from friends.

The United Kingdom and Israel have both seen social activities blossom since April, while France is just beginning to open its terraces, cinemas, museums and theaters. "It is difficult to comprehend the extent of the disconnection to others. However, we can see that with this pandemic we have lost what are called "weak ties': Our acquaintances outside of family and our closest inner circles. We have become distant from friends. There are no more chance encounters at dinners, parties or concerts, and yet this is what makes life worth living," says Anne Vincent-Buffault, a historian and author of Histoire sensible du toucher ("The Sensitive History of Touching").

How do we resume a social life rich in diverse, chance encounters? "Without touch, without embraces, the traditional channels of communication are blurred. We are all a bit awkward when it comes to physical reunions. What do we do? What physical distance do we respect? We will have to be very tactful in our human relations; We are all a bit on edge. We'll get there by rediscovering a sense of moderation, of nuance with others. After months of health crisis, a certain indifference to others may have set in, due in particular to physical distance. We must regain empathy," says Vincent-Buffault.

According to a survey conducted by Santé Publique France over the past year, by mid-March 2021 one in five French citizens were suffering from depression or anxiety, while 65% said they were experiencing sleep problems. According to the study, the feeling of loneliness is associated with these indicators of degraded mental health.

Zoom and other communication tools have certainly made it possible to keep in touch with one's loved ones and have been at the heart of many companies' operations. But Mark Hunyadi — professor, author and ethics committee member of the telecoms company Orange — warns: "The all-digital world and the diktat of applications can lead us to a life of robots. We are in what I call "cockpit individualism", like a pilot who feeds on information only coming from screens. Quarantine has accelerated this process by altering relationships of trust. It is time to get out of our bubble, to get a grip on ourselves, to rediscover the trust that links us to the world. Trust is the first of the social bonds; It is a risk, not a calculation or an algorithm."

football_stadium_england

Starting to fill back up? — Photo: Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA Wire/ZUMA

Sociologist Jean-Claude Kaufmann, author of C'est fatigant la liberté... Une leçon de la crise ("Liberty is exhausting... a lesson from the crisis'), highlights two phenomena: "When the crisis becomes serious, there is a willingness to jump up, to go beyond oneself to reach out to others. However, I observe contradictory impulses. On the one hand, the temptation of what I call — with no judgment — a "soft society": To settle in the countryside, to break the frenetic rhythm of city life, to create a protective cocoon, to meditate, etc. On the other hand, there is an overflowing energy, such as young people who want to build something in this society... In this group, anger can appear, as young people have paid the high price of the health crisis."

Abigail Taugwalder, creator of the line Asagiri Beauty and a yoga teacher based in Paris, hasn't ceased doling out advice on reconnecting with others. With clients all over the world and a family scattered across Switzerland, England and Japan, she was, in many ways, prepared for the pandemic.

"I lived in Japan, where wearing a mask in case of flu or a simple cold has long been part of everyday life. I also learned to integrate into Japanese society by escaping the comfortable bubble of expatriates."

She adds, "My yoga classes didn't replace the studio atmosphere, but they gave me a purpose for getting up early and rituals that felt good mentally. These classes allowed us to exchange a lot and now that the idea is to meet physically, I will organize retreats to continue our discussions."

Culture and group leisure activities, which have been absent from our agendas for months, are prime excuses for reconnecting with others. Is the much-publicized opening of a hotel-cinema in Paris, where everyone can see a film in the cocoon of their room rather than in a theater, a sign that cultural practices are turning inward? Nathanaël Karmitz, chairman of the board of MK2 cinemas and creator of the Paradiso doesn't think so.

"Our hotel was not designed to respond to the current health crisis. The project has been in the works for more than seven years with my brother Elisha. At the Hotel Paradiso, we find the experience complementary to that of dark rooms. Charlie Chaplin used to say that we meet at the cinema to laugh and to cry. It is this sharing of emotions that contributes to the experience of cinema, to its magic. Paris is the French capital of cinema, and we passionately anticipate its return." Audiences will be spilt for choice when it comes to rediscovering the atmosphere of movie theatres, with more than 500 films waiting to be programmed in France.

For the actors and dancers in live performances, the relationship with the public has been almost nonexistent for months. Nevertheless, Parelle Gervasoni, the director of the Compagnie Piste, kept on working and presented her latest creation, "Ici nos yeux sont inutiles," ("Here our eyes are useless') on April 19 at the La Reine Blanche theater in front of industry professionals.

"We are all thirsty for life, for an audience, even if we play in front of masked people, which can be a little destabilizing. The emotion shared with the public is different every night. On both sides of the curtain, it is useful to remember that these exchanges are more than "essential"," she says.

Sophie Arbib is the founder of Exclusif Voyages, which focuses on discovering new destinations through encounters and experiences. Arbib is also optimistic: "You have to learn to tame your fears, to live with them. Our clients have been very reactive. As soon as the vaccination campaigns were announced, they planned their next vacation to far away destinations such as southern Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Polynesia. I dream of returning to Japan. Leaving again when we can is part of the essentials: questioning ourselves, looking for the mystery, the unknown, new emotions."

airport_covid

Larnaca airport, in Cyprus, on May 17, 2021. — Photo: Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto/ZUMA

What about the working world? What will a return to office life look like? "Let's remember: Before the crisis, the beginning of a different work structure was taking shape. This new generation fresh out of school was showing its desire to balance private and professional life. With COVID-19, everything accelerated and for the questions of economic and health survival, decisions were made very quickly. Telecommuting was made mandatory... We had to understand, decipher and instill the new codes of professional cohabitation via the screen. A computer that shuts down on an angry or upset face will leave you with a bad feeling for the day, whereas an unpleasant exchange in person can be resolved in the afternoon over a good coffee or a laugh. Trust, listening and availability are the three keywords that will make the difference between before and after COVID," says Stéphanie Picon, director of GroupExpression, a communication and marketing agency specialized in tourism and leisure.

The organization of her company is ready to adapt: "We have set up a rhythm that we'll test together and update if necessary. Three days minimum in person for a balanced social life within the company and two days at home for a greater concentration on our cases, in the form of a team rotation. Knowing that one day a week we would all be together, ready to dedicate our time and attention to our colleagues. Perhaps we can spend time with each other without a computer or laptop — or, even better, over a good lunch prepared together. In the meantime, we have grown and learned... that's what we will have to remember from this crisis."

"Our system is beginning to show signs of cracking and this crisis favors what I call crumbling."

Fanny Rayon, a wellness coach in Paris, had the idea of offering "posture" workshops via Zoom to companies. "I felt that giving ergonomic advice and exercises to be as comfortable as possible while teleworking to groups of colleagues brought some teams together. Laughing together, sometimes being a little silly, has done a lot of good for teams whose exchanges remain limited to long meetings via Zoom or Microsoft Teams."

Sociologists and researchers have noted the disintegrating links within family and professional groups. Historian Jean-François Sirinelli studied society as a whole in his book Ce monde que nous avons perdu, Une histoire du vivre-ensemble ("This world that we have lost: A history of living together"). Despite his rather pessimistic view of our era, he admits that "in the face of unprecedented historical upheaval, living together has held together; these trials have welded us together."

Yet he doesn't hide his concerns: "Public interest is no longer at the heart of political programs. Our system is beginning to show signs of cracking and this crisis favors what I call crumbling."

The historian — a great specialist on France's Fifth Republic, the country's current governing system — recalls "the Republic's values are based on altruism, compassion and concern for the other." These are a solid set of morals to guide us through our reopening world where, little by little, we will be able to rediscover how to delight in the presence of others.

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Thousands of migrants in Del Rio, Texas, on the border between Mexico and the U.S.

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet

👋 Сайн уу*

Welcome to Friday, where the new U.S.-UK-Australia security pact is under fire, Italy becomes the first country to make COVID-19 "green pass" mandatory for all workers, and Prince Philip's will is to be kept secret for 90 years. From Russia, we also look at the government censorship faced by brands that recently tried to promote multiculturalism and inclusiveness in their ads.

[*Sain uu - Mongolian]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• U.S. facing multiple waves of migrants, refugees: The temporary camp, located between Mexico's Ciudad Acuña and Del Rio in Texas, is housing some 10,000 people, largely from Haiti. With few resources, they are forced to wait in squalid conditions and scorching temperatures amidst a surge of migrants attempting to cross into the U.S. Meanwhile, thousands of recently evacuated Afghan refugees wait in limbo at U.S. military bases, both domestic and abroad.

• COVID update: Italy is now the first European country to require vaccination for all public and private sector workers from Oct. 15. The Netherlands will also implement a "corona pass" in the following weeks for restaurants, bars and cultural spaces. When he gives an opening speech at the United Nations General Assembly next week, unvaccinated Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro will defy New York City authorities, who are requiring jabs for all leaders and diplomats.

• U.S. and UK face global backlash over Australian deal: The U.S. is attempting to diffuse the backlash over the new security pact signed with Australia and the UK, which excludes the European Union. The move has angered France, prompting diplomats to cancel a gala to celebrate ties between the country and the U.S.

• Russian elections: Half of the 450 seats in Duma are will be determined in today's parliamentary race. Despite persistent protests led by imprisoned opposition leader Alexey Navalny, many international monitors and Western governments fear rigged voting will result in President Vladimir Putin's United Russia party maintaining its large majority.

• Somali president halts prime minister's authority: The decision by President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed marks the latest escalation in tensions with Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble concerning a murder investigation. The move comes as the Horn of Africa country has fallen into a political crisis driven by militant violence and clashes between clans.

• Astronauts return to Earth after China's longest space mission: Three astronauts spent 90 days at the Tianhe module and arrived safely in the Gobi desert in Inner Mongolia. The Shenzhou-12 mission is the first of crewed missions China has planned for 2021-2022 as it completes its first permanent space station.

• Prince Philip's will to be kept secret for 90 years: A British court has ruled that the will of Prince Philip, the late husband of Britain's Queen Elizabeth who passed away in April at 99 years old, will remain private for at least 90 years to preserve the monarch's "dignity and standing."

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

With a memorable front-page photo, Argentine daily La Voz reports on the open fight between the country's president Alberto Fernández and vice-president Cristina Kirchner which is paralyzing the government. Kirchner published a letter criticizing the president's administration after several ministers resigned and the government suffered a major defeat in last week's midterm primary election.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

€150

An Italian investigation uncovered a series of offers on encrypted "dark web" websites offering to sell fake EU COVID vaccine travel documents. Italy's financial police say its units have seized control of 10 channels on the messaging service Telegram linked to anonymous accounts that were offering the vaccine certificates for up to €150. "Through the internet and through these channels, you can sell things everywhere in the world," finance police officer Gianluca Berruti told Euronews.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

In Russia, brands advertising diversity are under attack

Russian sushi delivery Yobidoyobi removed an advertisement with a Black man and apologized for offending the Russian nation, while a grocery chain was attacked for featuring an LGBTQ couple, reports Moscow-based daily Kommersant.

❌ "On behalf of the entire company, we want to apologize for offending the public with our photos..." reads a recent statement by Russian sushi delivery Yobidoyobi after publishing an advertisement that included a photograph of a Black man. Shortly after, the company's co-founder, Konstantin Zimen, said people on social media were accusing Yobidoyobi of promoting multiculturalism. Another recent case involved grocery store chain VkusVill, which released advertising material featuring a lesbian couple. The company soon began to receive threats and quickly apologized and removed the text and apologized.

🏳️🌈 For the real life family featured in the ad, they have taken refuge in Spain, after their emails and cell phone numbers were leaked. "We were happy to express ourselves as a family because LGBTQ people are often alone and abandoned by their families in Russia," Mila, one of the daughters in the ad, explained in a recent interview with El Pais.

🇷🇺 It is already common in Russia to talk about "spiritual bonds," a common designation for the spiritual foundations that unite modern Russian society, harkening back to the Old Empire as the last Orthodox frontier. The expression has been mocked as an internet meme and is widely used in public rhetoric. For opponents, this meme is a reason for irony and ridicule. Patriots take spiritual bonds very seriously: The government has decided to focus on strengthening these links and the mission has become more important than protecting basic human rights.Russian sushi delivery Yobidoyobi removed an advertisement with a Black man and apologized for offending the Russian nation, while a grocery chain was attacked for featuring an LGBTQ couple, reports Moscow-based daily Kommersant.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"Ask the rich countries: Where are Africa's vaccines?"

— During an online conference, Dr. Ayoade Olatunbosun-Alakija, of the African Vaccine Delivery Alliance, implored the international community to do more to inoculate people against COVID-19 in Africa and other developing regions. The World Health Organization estimates that only 3.6% of people living in Africa have been fully vaccinated. The continent is home to 17% of the world population, but only 2% of the nearly six billion shots administered so far have been given in Africa, according to the W.H.O.

✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet

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