After the events at the beginning of March, I decided to expand my regular Monday Postcards with this special about my daily life during the coronavirus (Covid-19).
This thread is updated regularly (and every week, there is a new thread to make it easier to read). It starts with the most recent entry at the top. I have also written a longer part about my past weeks in Thailand, right after the outbreak of the disease. (Read more about it in the Post about Week 1 of Social Distancing.)
I would like to use this thread to share the knowledge we have gained in Asia over the past weeks – how did we live, cope with fake news, and how or social life changed. I know for a lot of you, especially in Europe and the US, this is a very new situation. It is for me too, I just had a bit more time to get “used” to it. (If you can ever really get used to it).
I called it the “No Panic Diary” because I want this to be a “virtual discussion”. On the one hand, I share, rant and also calm down by writing. On the other, I would like to give you a platform where you can ask, share and discuss about the current situation as well. It is a very new situation for all of us and maybe this diary helps us to connect and support each other. If you have any questions, you can comment below these updates, send me an email or contact my via social media. There are no silly questions and I am happy to talk.
First and foremost, do not panic, stay calm and stay at home! Please follow the instructions by your governments and be smart.
Day 32 and Day 33
Policies are implemented quickly and may sound sensible in theory, but we are seeing that they cause a lot of confusion when they are put into practice.
Since Tuesday, shops which are smaller than 400 sqm are allowed to open again. As I mentioned on day 30, DIY-stores and garden supplies stores are also allowed to open. But there are many things which are not clear. Car dealerships are not allowed to open because their outdoor areas are also taken into account and, therefore, most of them exceed the 400 sqm. At the same time, a big outlet centre near Vienna is allowed to open. It is an outdoor area with many stores below 400 sqm. I do not really understand the logic. I guess the amount of visitors in an outlet centre is much higher than at a car dealership. Currently, the requirement in shops is 20 sqm per customer. A 400 sqm shop can then let 20 people in. What about the others? They will all wait in front of the stores. Will they be able to keep a distance of one or two metres?
I personally experienced the affects of Covid-19 measures. I have to admit, this week I also got a bit annoyed by what many of us see as unequal treatment. In my case it is about the mail services. The Austrian Post has suspended mail services for letters and parcels from most of the non-EU countries. The argument is to guarantee services within the EU and Austria in particular. In general, I can understand this. I am currently waiting for new shipments of goods from non-EU countries and because of the suspensions, I will not receive them and, hence, not be able to sell them for some time. When the policies were implemented, I did not complain. We are all affected by the pandemic in different ways and this is one of the challenges I will need to figure out.
But when I went to the post office at the beginning of this week, I was one of the few people in the queue who did not have a return parcel from the major e-commerce companies. Even before the outbreak of the pandemic, there was a lot of discussion in the EU about free returns. From a business perspective, the e-commerce giants can easily offer their customers free delivery and returns. For smaller businesses, this is, unfortunately, not feasible. Furthermore, it is really bad for the environment. (Think about the packaging and carbon footprint created.) Therefore, industry experts have been asking for a prohibition of free returns. According to them, free returns distort the competition by making the strong even stronger.
My visit to the post office showed me the extent of returns. And I got annoyed: These are the essential mail services which need to be guaranteed? This is why international mail services have been suspended? So that people can “enjoy” free returns? Furthermore, from the perspective of Austria as a business location, it does not make sense either. The big e-commerce companies do not have a representation in Austria and, hence, do not pay any taxes. So, we decided to harm our local businesses by strengthening those who are benefitting from the crisis already…
I personally find the whole approach hypocritical: on the one hand, the government claims to support small local businesses while at the same time it implements measures which result in exactly the opposite. I am not implying that this was done on purpose. Many policies are currently quickly implemented, because we are in a new and challenging situation. Hence, we only see their effects and also problems when they are applied in “real life” only seen a few days later.
I think we should use this crisis to rethink our business strategies. In times of crises, challenges of our society are even more visible. I hope that we learn from the current situation and use these learnings in the future.
Everybody is getting impatient. Some are getting annoyed. After almost five weeks of being asked to stay at home it is probably normal. I am still avoiding watching the news and all the in-depth analyses of the pandemic. I have been having this Covid-19 situation for almost three months now and I am getting tired. Things are changing so fast anyways, I do not feel like catching up with it and having the same conversations over and over again.
I am also tired of still having discussions that the measures are too harsh and not necessary. We have little cases because we prevented them and flattened that curve. The problem is that many people then fail to understand what could have happened. I still hear comparisons to the “normal flu season”. I always then ask the person to look at Italy, New York, China. This would have been the alternative. Dead bodies removed by the military. Bodies stored in delivery trucks for frozen food.
It makes me really sad that instead of acknowledging that we are obviously doing something right, some keep seeing the negative. If you do not know any Austrian in person, one key characteristic is that we loooove to complain. If this crisis passes and if we really successfully managed to keep the numbers low, the majority will complain about it. I can already hear it: “All these measures destroyed our country for nothing”, instead of realistically seeing what would have been the alternative. I know that complaining about the situation and venting about it is also a kind of coping mechanism for some people. Hence, I do not want to be too harsh.
Unfortunately, there is not much we can do, we have to sit it out. And even if we all now think we have become experts, we are not. We are business people, teachers, supermarket cashiers, parents, doctors. But that does not make us experts in fighting a global pandemic. It is ok to have your own opinion. But for the sanity of yourself and those around you, I think we all should take a step back. We are going to sit at home for much longer and negative thinking will not help us.
On the positive side, when I went to the supermarket and the pharmacy today, all the people I saw were really disciplined with the masks. When I picked up a trolley at the supermarket, there was a person handing it out and disinfecting it. On the floors, there are yellow stripes indicating the safety distance.
I still have trust in us – change is difficult. Especially if it hits us out of the blue like the coronavirus. But no matter how much we complain, I know that we will get through this.
Have a good day everyone. 😉
Day 30 – DIY
Austrians love to work in on their houses and in their gardens. When I tell my overseas friends that it is quite common to build your own house yourself, I usually get amazed looks. Ikea is for beginners. Austrians flip old houses, sometimes only leaving a few walls and renovating the whole thing from the ground up, and many build their houses from scratch. For the longest time I thought building your house was a thing of the past, but I have quite a few friends of my age who recently did the same. It seems that Austrians have a big desire to create and build something.
In Asia I had to get used to having everything done by somebody else. It was the first time that I was forced to use the Ikea assembly service. Austrians would make fun of you if you told them you use that service. In Asia, I have friends who need to call someone to hang their pictures because they do not know how to put a nail into the wall. I would not call myself a DIY enthusiast or expert but as I was single for a long time, I just had to learn how to fix stuff myself. I taught myself how to insulate doors, assemble furniture, steam clean the apartment and even fix the sink.
Builders, carpenters and technicians in Austria have to go through extensive education and, hence, their fees are high. The Germans and us are famous for our apprentice-system: After you finishing the mandatory years of school (nine in total), you can pursue an education as carpenter, hairdresser or many other professions. You then have to gain experience and go through exams and if you manage to pass the “Meisterprüfung”, you are allowed to run your own business. The standards for this exam are very high. As there is no equivalent educational system in Asia, many people call themselves technicians but they actually are no experts. I had technicians in the house who told me that I should just put a plug into the sink to prevent bad smell from coming out instead of fixing the pipes. Every time I encounter a problem with the washing machine, the solution is that I am a foreigner and, hence, use the wrong detergent which creates too much foam for the “local” washing machine brand (which was a German brand…). When we had a leak in the shower coming down from the floor above, instead of finding the real problem, some pipes where patched up. Because of that, I taught myself to fix many of these things myself or did some research to give the right instructions. (And sometimes, I just call my dad 😉 )
Yesterday, I was reminded of the Austrian DIY-passion when people flooded the DIY-stores. The government opened up small shops but also these DIY-stores and garden centres. There were queues of up to 200 metres and waiting times of 45 minutes in front of the stores. I wondered where all these “experts” suddenly came from? Is every Austrian currently fixing their houses? I also thought we have a shortage of skilled labourers. When the government first announced the openings, I felt as if a hype was built over a few days. I did not know why exactly DIY-stores. But maybe it was intentional. It may be a smart strategy to keep people busy – INSIDE their houses – and prevent them from going out too much.
Whatever the reason, I think that Austrian houses and gardens have probably never been as done up as they will be in 2020. Happy DIY-ing! 🙂
Over the long weekend, I found old photo albums and I shared my trip down memory lane in my Monday Postcard.