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Social distancing brings more orderly lines to Naples, Italy
Rozena Crossman

Where National Identity Meets Quarantine Rules

Are some countries better at following rules than others? The U.S. is making global headlines as gun-wielding citizens from Michigan to D.C. take to the streets to show their disdain for mandatory confinement. Those Americans abiding by the lockdown rules will quickly tell you that this defiance is flamed by Donald Trump's leadership-by-chaos presidency, as he openly supports the protests against his own policy. To the rest of the world, however, Americans banging the drum of anti-government individualism were … just being Americans.

As over half of the world's population is currently in lockdown, the various national quarantine policies have been picked apart in medical, social and economic terms. But is there an anthropological factor? What role do culture and national identity and characteristics play in driving citizens' reactions? In the Ivory Coast, for example, where offering physical contact with the sick is a local tradition that has posed significant challenges to social distancing. On the other hand, residents of China, Japan and South Korea were already in the habit of wearing masks as a common courtesy long before the virus even started.

Yet navigating coronavirus is a complex emotional endeavor, and not all responses can be easily caricatured. In a recent article in La Stampa, Flavia Perina applauds her fellow Italians, who have now been in quarantine longer than any other country for their "unexpected discipline," after 96% of the five million patrol checks carried out found no violations of the rules.

The La Stampa article came just a couple of days after Queen Elisabeth's rare address to the British nation, in which she cited "the attributes of self-discipline, of quiet good-humored resolve and of fellow-feeling (that) still characterize this country." Perina concludes: "We're not English, nor German nor Prussian, we don't have that austere type of DNA … (but) when the rules are precise and objectives are clear, we fulfill our duty." Yes, around the world, culture is shaping how we're all living through this pandemic — just as the pandemic is bound to reshape our cultures.

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