Covid Culture

‘I’ve got wine, is that OK?’ Katie asks me, holding a glass of red up to the screen.

I laugh. ‘Of course!’ She laughs too, and I think how different the start of this interview is to the previous one, where she started crying before she’d hardly said a word.

‘So I’m in a unique position because I haven’t been in the same place, nor country even, over the last 18 months,’ Katie says. ‘The pandemic for me has had three parts; that first lockdown in March 2020, the Covid experience in New Zealand with, well, zero Covid, and then coming back to North America right into Covidland.’

Katie moved back to Canada from New Zealand 7 months before, in April 2021. ‘I’ve had a very bizarre experience of arriving in Canada at the height of the third wave, the wave with the most cases across the country and before vaccinations. I remember getting here from New Zealand where it wasn’t a thing and thinking, ‘OK I have to sanitise everything, where’s the masks, where’s the backup masks, OK let’s switch masks every hour’, like, I was so, so, intense about it.’ She covers her face and laughs.

She said: ‘I had a friend visit a couple of weeks after I got back, and we were outside on the deck. He asked me what I was comfortable with, and I said ‘let’s wear masks, let’s stay at least ten feet apart’, things that were beyond the measures necessary, and he looked at me and said ‘OK, whatever makes you comfortable’, but was laughing about it. I thought, OK, maybe I need to learn more about the culture of Covid here.’

Katie asked her friends to explain how things worked, and was told there were the rules that had been imposed by the different provinces, and then there were (she makes air quotes with her fingers) “The Rules”. She said: ‘The cultural rules, if you will; what people actually did. From what I could gather, the official rules had been shifted around and changed so frequently that pretty much everybody was just doing their own thing and deciding what was best for them.’

She gasps. ‘Oh! I have a wild story about that. So the bubble rules around shared housing and flatmate situations weren’t ever really addressed. However, there were some suggestions for if people were single and wanted to connect, you know, sexually and romantically.’ she giggles and covers her face with her hands. ‘It’s embarrassing,’ emphasising the word, ‘that my provincial government talked about this, but they said to create <air quotes> “glory holes”.’ She paused and looked at me.

‘No!’ I exclaimed.

‘Yes,’ she nods.

‘They did not say that!’ I squeak in disbelief.

‘Oh they did. There were so many jokes on the internet about it. If that – that – is what’s being told to people, no wonder they’re making their own rules.’

Returning to Canada, Katie was looking forward to forging a stable life. ‘Here I have opportunities I didn’t have in New Zealand. I have a job that’s financially secure, and I can dream about things like having kids and buying a house. My goals here are very different, and so on arriving, I panicked. I thought what I really have to be prepared for is that I might never find a partner. At that point I didn’t even know whether people were allowed to meet or not. There was a lot of reconciling of having to give up my dreams; give up the partnership dreams, the kid dreams, the family dreams. I told myself to be grateful to have a job and just focus on that for however long this pandemic plays out for.’

I asked her how she felt about that.

‘Resigned. I felt resigned to a fate that I hadn’t chosen. But I had to accept it, because that’s what the world’s going through. Equally though, I think that was also a bit reflective of my personality rather than what was at play. I was really reminded of how removed I’d been in New Zealand from the struggles that everyone else went through. I was new to the mentality of ‘oh fuck, this can fuck up my life’ whereas everyone else had been dealing with that for a long time. The world was ending for me, but in reality, it wasn’t, I was just new to it.’

Katie says it was an awakening to people’s experiences in North America. ‘Hearing about it over the phone in New Zealand, and then seeing how people were living wasn’t something I knew how to expect. It’s very different. Like arriving in British Columbia and seeing how my friends socialised very differently. They were so nervous to merge friend groups. So nervous to socialise with more than one other person, like going on a hike together, even though we were outside. Although, maybe not nervous as such, they were just very aware of what that risk entailed. Some people had spent the best part of the last 12 months with either just their flatmates or themselves.’

Katie went out for dinner with a friend when restaurants opened back up not long after she’d got back. She said: ‘It was the first time my friend had been out since the pandemic began, and I thought to myself ‘holy fuck’, that’s insane. Over a year without going out to dinner. There was a nervousness to her taking off her mask when we sat down, and it made me think ‘oh my god, I get it’. I got what a massive concern it was for her, to be in a restaurant with multiple people that she doesn’t know. So for me it was a double pronged thing to learn how to be in Covid culture, as well as learning what my friends have gone through, so I can be with them as they then release that nervousness.’

One big positive for Katie to come out of Covid is that she’s been able to return to the government job she had before she moved to New Zealand, and was able to choose where she lives, as the team are now working remotely. She said: ‘I get to live in a city I love, with all of my friends and be on the [Vancouver] island which is a great match for me.’

I ask her what it’s been like returning home, Covid aside. She pauses. ‘Really, really, fucking hard.’

She pauses again, and I stay silent. For a moment I think she might cry, but she doesn’t. ‘Really, really hard. I felt so much belonging in Christchurch. But I chose to come back. I didn’t want the job and visa fight, I wanted stability so I could think about bigger things. I’ve battled with the stability of a paycheck for pretty much the last fifteen years, and I’m done with it. I’m over it.’

The transition’s been hard for her. ‘There’s been a fucktonne of grief. God, thinking back to the last interview, grief is the theme and I’m like, oh god it continues’, she laughs, putting her head in her hands. ‘Now I’ve spent eight months grieving my life in New Zealand, like anything that you love and are super grateful for. I don’t regret the move though, I’m full of hope, as I now see so much opportunity here in Canada because of my time in New Zealand. The two are intertwined forever.’

She apologises for not being specific, and I tell her no, it’s perfect. I remark that I’m just impressed she’s managed to talk about it without crying. ‘I KNOW!’ she cries, ‘me too! I’m like, ‘oh my god why haven’t I cried yet’. It’ll come T, it’ll come,’ she laughs.

I ask her how she feels now, compared to the last interview. ‘Back then, I remember feeling that this was going to shift the world. That there’d be this turning point where we all came out of Covid and it would all be different. Now, I don’t see it being such a sudden dramatic shift. I also don’t have the optimism around that anymore. Like, I do think we’re shifting, I just don’t think we’re all going to sit down and reconsider our values. I’m also a million times less scared. Not less scared of getting it – that, and the thought of how sick it can make a population, still scares me, but I was scared about things like what it might do to the world economy. Mainly though, I feel really fucking fortunate. And very, very grateful. I mean, I am still looking for that dude to bang, but, you know, on the upside we’re not in lockdown so it’s no sweat. ‘

Katie laughs and looks to her right, and notices the wine glass that’s sat untouched for the last 45 minutes. ‘I haven’t even had a sip of my wine!’ She holds it up to the screen, ‘this is still full, can you believe it. Oh god!’

She puts it back. Without taking a sip.

I laugh. ‘And you didn’t cry. Well done.’

She laughs. ‘HA! I didn’t!’

Published by Paps

I love running, writing, travel and adventure. I'll give anything a go once, and am always up for a laugh.

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