Going back out there

How is your social feed looking these days? If it’s anything like mine, it’s full of „We’re finally open again“ posts, in some form or other.

My inbox is overflowing with emails, carefully explaining the new normal etiquette on the next visit to my favorite store (pre-lockdown), the gym (remember that place?), or boastful predictions in business.

Each email conveys a similar message: A return to the post-lockdown behavior standard, merely tinted a different hue, headlined with the current narrative of new normality.

„Be excited with us. And come see us again!“
„Enjoy a coffee again – in [this new dress] we just got in.“
„The new normal is a chance to do [insert any buzzword here].“

But isn’t it a little presumptuous to assume we all want our 2019 lives back? Or that it’s at all possible, for that fact?

How do we really feel after 2+ months of hermit living?

Are we experiencing tentative excitement? Is it reminiscence to „old“ times?

Or general laziness?

I decided to find out for myself and be my own guinea pig (once again).

I went to downtown Frankfurt yesterday, suited with my mask, antibacterial lotion, a super heightened awareness – and my mixed feelings of anxiety and curiosity.

I felt like a huge bubble of contradiction biking into the city center.

„This is ok. I’ve been outside the past few weeks (to go grocering). This is pretty normal.“

Closely followed by thoughts of “Did I forget my mask on the dresser? Is that guy standing too close to me? How should she be acting?”

When I reached my destination, a local Snipes store to buy a cap (which I’d been planning pre-lockdown), my first feeling was relief. The regulations of max customers and masks were in place and being followed.

Other customers were not as rigorous with the masks once INSIDE the store as they were outside.

„Ok, this is good. Weird. But good.“

But the experience in the store was mostly weird, not good. I found myself hopping around a bit, like a deer (or a Bamby, if you want to have a play on name here), dodging a person here and there, taking a step back from sales people to ensure the 1,5 meter distance. The weirdness of the situation made me a weirdo IN the situation.

And I was the only person being a nut about it. Turns out, other customers were not as rigorous with the masks once INSIDE the store as they were outside.

Where is the logic in that?! Wearing the mask outside is more important than inside a closed space? Obviously, I am missing something here.

My first conclusion: Visit to a retail store elicits feelings of initial relief (finally, normality!), followed by anxiety and strange distance-seeking dodging.

No fun. Slightly stressful.

I have to calm down. And others need to get real.

Masks seem to be the secret recipe for striking up a conversation with strangers.

Next up on my field research tour: Lunch.

Thankfully, grabbing a focaccia (finally, food not made in my own kitchen!) at a cute little trattoria on the Main proved more Bamby-friendly. Everyone was keeping the distance, there was a high awareness in both customers and staff, and people were super open to each other.

Masks seem to be the secret recipe for striking up a conversation with strangers. I suppose everyone’s feelings of awkwardness lead to the need to reach out, in hopes to soften a totally surreal situation. And connect over absurdity.

And let’s be honest, wearing a mask like this is surreal and feels absurd in every way.

Also, was everyone smiling at one another much more? (As far as a mask allowed me to recognize it, at least.) Maybe it’s attributed to the fact that we can all finally go out more, stores are reopening, life is taking place outside of our homes again.

Maybe it’s the sunny weather.

Or maybe it’s a general public relief at a change in scenery (home desolation).

My trattoria visit was much more relaxing. Feelings of collective were intermixed with contagious relief (crazy word combination here, right).

Tip: Don’t go hungry. The line may be short, but the process of putting on your mask, ordering, paying and receiving your yummies is stretched out.

So gastronomy-wise, I’m ready for beta-testing: The full-on restaurant visit.

Next up on my out-of-lockdown schedule: Hitting the gym. (I’m pretty sure you felt a pang of guilt there, right? I hear you!)

Going back to my original pondering over what we’ll be feeling, I can say with certainty that 2019 is not coming back. The isolation (voluntary for some, required for all) has rewired a few behaviors already. Although anxiety is still very present, and will most likely continue to be for months to come, I believe a general feeling of careful relief will permeate our emotions.

I also believe we will change how we spend our time. I hope the increase in time spent on social platforms during lockdown will gradually be replaced with In-Real-Life get togethers again. Meeting our friends will have more value.

The home will remain our sanctuary in the coming months though, whether out of laziness or new found enjoyment. After all, that’s why we pay (all that) rent and have all these fabulous kitchens and nifty gadgets and home entertainment systems and comfy couches and balconies (for some of us) and grills and Netflix and co subscriptions and… you name it.

Sure, there’s going to be a surge in outside activities (or maybe not, remains to be seen). We will be more conscious though.

At least for me, I realized that my homemade cappuccino is tastier than any barista’s, because I know how to make it just right. (I call it Bamby-ccino. I’m a coffee nut. And remember, obviously weird.) I look forward to going to the coffee house to meet a friend once in a while though. Hopefully without too much WDB (Weird Dodging Behavior) in the future.

I’ll get my anxiety under control. After all, wearing a mask all day is excruciating for anyone in customer-facing jobs (retailers, grocery employees, etc.). I need to lighten up.

And get real myself. Because statistically speaking, this pandemic is under control and nearly over. (Which leads me to my reading tip below.)

These past two months have given me a chance to re-prioritize, to re-evaluate what I spend time on and what needs more of my attention. This newsletter, this connection to you all is high on that updated list.

Too often we get side-tracked and mixed up in everyday whirlwinds. I think we all did a good deal of personal spring cleaning. And it was necessary.

Looking at all those instagram postings bring promoted in my feed, all those invitations to get my attention (and Euros) back, I have one thing to say to you,

Dear brands:

Show me how you re-prioritized. Show me what you are doing differently now.

Show me that you understand what is going on in my emotional ecosystem. Show me some self-reflection.

Show me some courage.

Because 2019 ist not coming back. It’s over. What worked then is not working now.

This is 2020. And this pandemic has made it very clear, not only that things need to change (actionism was so 2019), but things are changing (2020 is about action).

Looking ahead – curious, hopeful and still slightly dodgy (but getting a grip on it).