Lockdown in Paris: Day 22

©Lisa Anselmo

Would you turn your neighbors into the police for violating the rules of confinement? That’s the question for today, one that troubles me. I’m thinking of reserving Tuesdays for discussing things that cause us to reflect, to go “Hmmm.” And I’m kicking it off with a doozy.

“My neighbours have been inviting people over for the past week. I’d like to post a note in the elevator saying that if this happens again, I’ll be contacting the police…” This was in a post in an expat community Facebook group. The woman who made the post was asking our opinion as to the best way to approach this issue and what to say in the note. She was concerned that these frequent outside visitors might heighten the risk of infection for the residents of the building.

Over 90% of the commenters demanded she call the police immediately, without delay. No discussion, no note. Turn them in, toute de suite.

“Criminals” was the word a friend used on my own post, where I’d brought up the matter for discussion among my circle of friends. “The law is hard, but that’s the law.”

“Turn them in!” said another. In fact, “prison” was a word that showed up a few times. Each had their own rationale.

Yet many others where horrified by how easily people were chucking their human compassion because of fear. “It’s like the gestapo!” one friend said. “This is where we are now?” another lamented. Still others equated it with denouncing neighbors who hid Jews during WWII. That’s when the comments really started flying.

I stood back and observed this heated debate playing out. I’d poked the bear.

The woman who wrote the post that started this fury also mentioned in a comment that she knew these neighbors and saw them every day, applauding for the healthcare workers—a tender, shared community moment. They are not thugs, they are just twenty-something children—daft and careless, like most young people who think they are invincible. This woman was attempting, albeit with heavy-handed threats, to address it within the building first, neighbor to neighbor.

But the Facebook community was having none of it.

Stories are surfacing, both in Paris and New York, of healthcare workers being told by their neighbors to move out of their apartment buildings. Forced from their homes—the one constant, the only place of rest these people have. People who are risking their lives for us.

Denouncing our neighbors to the police. Forcing healthcare workers to leave their homes. Like my friend asked: Is this where we are now? Is fear stripping us of our human decency? Our compassion?

Whatever the threat, real or perceived, what is it this thing us that makes us turn so quickly against one another during this crisis? We should take a moment to search our souls for the truth behind our motives. Are we really worried about infection? Or are we just looking to slap the hand of those not towing the line, when we ourselves are sacrificing?

Are we trying to control each other because we cannot control the virus?

What would you do if you were that woman with the careless neighbors? Before you answer, ask yourself what price you’re willing to pay to feel “safe,” what you can live with. Is compassion a luxury we can ill afford right now? What about when this is over?

It’s times like this that show us who we are, both individually and collectively. So? Who are we?

Get caught up on my diary, here.


Tip of the day

Take a break from what my friend Brion calls “fear porn:” articles with headlines designed to stir terror and panic (and make you click)—many of which are unsubstantiated or about something you cannot control. Willfully feeding your fear is willful self-abuse. Compassion starts with self-compassion.


On the bookshelf

Learning compassion. Click book to buy.

Fighting through fear. Click book to buy.

18 responses to “Lockdown in Paris: Day 22

  1. Lisa – this really does take some thought. I would put a note in the elevator first.
    I am reading “Saving Simon” now. It’s a good one!
    Thank you for your daily posts and reflections.
    Be safe!

  2. There’s some pretty reliable and mounting evidence that this virus, like SARS, can spread through a building’s heat and air circulators. If the building in question has a shared air handler, I think I’d have to contact the neighbor and ask they cease and if that didn’t work, report them. Some of the arguments you’ve mentioned in your post are similar to the arguments heard when citizens of the US complain about illegal immigration. I have always said these complainers aren’t xenophobic but scared. I believe people have a touch less compassion for their fellow man when fear is at play. Great post.

    • Yes there is no doubt that the neighbors in question were creating a potential problem. But it seems prudent to let the building management get involved and “police” from within first.

  3. Interesting blog, Lisa. I guess what has happened to confronting the neighbor and reminding them of the pandemic and recommended health care practices, first before calling the authorities? Some people are genuinely clueless and think that is ok to gather in groups, because they don’t think they have the virus. Case in point we have an immunocompromised friend who is having her family and grandchildren over for Easter dinner and she invited us! Be well, Joyce

  4. This one didn’t really require too much thought. I too thought about Anne Frank and the gestapo being called to arrest her by the snitching neighbors. But there’s a huge difference here. Granted in WW2 there was a law declared for turning in Jews…. but no one was REALLY personally, physicalLy affected by that or in danger of dying if she was arrested or not. In this case, you have a clear case of one singular disobedience affecting hundreds. No comparison. Here, I’d call the police, no note, no warning, no ultimatum. Adults can read therefore should understand that their actions have consequences. If not, bon! Tant pis!
    Lisa, This is serious. I wouldn’t spend time figuring this out and going through customary steps. This virus waits for no one. Be well!

    • Have to agree with Stephanie regarding the reasoning. And there’s also a very big difference between apartment residents inviting people over for a social get together (of which they must be aware and which is clearly not allowed and for good reason), and apartment residents (who have no need to be within six feet of their neighbours in any case) fearful of health care workers with apartments in their buildings being asked to relocate. I’m sure the health care workers know and take every precaution to keep others safe. The compassionate response would be to first address the issue with the tenants flouting the law. If they then chose to ignore it, then not advising the police and letting them deal with it would be the irresponsible choice.

  5. Hi Lisa. I’m saving all your Lockdown Posts. Just to remind me of what the world went through in the Spring of 2020.
    Jim In Arizona.
    BTW. Call the police or gendarmes or whatever.

  6. Lisa, indeed you have poked the bear. What excellent questions to ask. Having lived in Paris, I know that, generally, the French prefer to go out versus have people in. But these are different times. And, truly, it doesn’t matter which culture the offending neighbors come from, the fact is we are in the Days of the COVID-19 Pandemic, and we must keep one another safe. The person not working to keep to the letter of the local lockdown, the person not wearing a mask in a store that I patronize, however quickly, the person not accepting that social distancing is an important safe boundary is the one that can kill me. I am not sure which option needs to be taken, but one certainly does – to keep one another safe. Thank you for these daily thoughts. I hope you assemble them in a future book with lovely photographs. I’d also love to hear an audiobook version to savor your beautiful, accented French, chéri. xx

  7. This is difficult but I would leave a note for sure asking for their consideration towards the other tenants in the building. If they refuse and tell you to mind your own business I would have to consider another action.
    Thank you for the question …

  8. I’m a bit older than you and most likely most of your correspondents. My Dad was a vet of WWII and my mother a member of the Greatest Generation.

    What we’re experiencing now is our WWII. We are fighting an enemy, albeit a nearly invisible one that takes no prisoners and has no sympathies for the innocent. We are all innocent. Except for those horrid people treating front line health care workers as if they’re a source of major contagion.

    Who knows better than they the realities of this terrible illness and the steps to take to avoid infecting others?

    As to friend’s neighbors having a gathering and putting the entire building at risk, a note to them, a sign in the lobby and in the lift. If that doesn’t work, by all mean, notify the gendarmes. They’re not just risking their own lives, but all the lives of those in the building and the lives of those living in the buildings where the party-goers live.

    Nobody is bulletproof in this. Nobody.

    • My readers are all such reasonable people! Neighbor-to-neighbor first. Then authorities as the last resort. (By the way, in Paris we have the National Police. Gendarmes are for small towns and the countryside. It’s the same in Italy.) That’s not to say we don’t have gendarmes policing here, but usually in aid of the police.

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