This article is a one-day trip to Luxembourg ville and what citizens experience in different locations under the current post-confinement circumstances. Although Nina is a fictional character, she has been carefully crafted based on what our workmates, friends and the people in general tell us about life nowadays. Enjoy.
Nina had never heard the word “deconfinement” before. Neither does she know anyone who has.
Early this morning she browsed the internet wondering if there was any coronavirus-free country. A large majority of the lucky shortlist are tiny islands somewhere in the vast Pacific Ocean. 188 countries are fighting the pandemic, with more or less success. Since school, when she was old enough to realise that being gauchée in a world made for right-hand people is sometimes hard. It’s Friday and life seems to be more and more like it was last winter, “before COVID-19 tore it all up”, she thought. Even now, after weeks of deconfinement, she hasn’t managed to appease the sensation of always being in peril when she’s surrounded by people. She doesn’t remember any other prior event that has shaken up people’s psyche and triggered fears and (almost) forgotten uncertainties the way the pandemic has done it.
Her one-year-old flat in Wemperhardt flirts with the winds of the Belgian border. Silence reigns up there, only disturbed by the housing projects that have also reached the north, and the urgency to get them done after lockdown. It’s time to head to d’Stad, finally, because the to-do Lëscht is getting longer and longer.
Although she’s trying to take one thing at a time, this visit to Luxembourg city has to be “profitable” in terms of time and safety. Before lockdown, her days were defined by speed and rushes, likely like anyone else’s. Home-based work has taken away her morning coffee with colleagues at work and a bunch of other things, but has given her a precious asset, time.
COVID-19 has brought us time for us and for the ones we care about. “A wake-up call to what really matters”, she often says to herself during the morning silent soliloquies before work starts. Weeks ago, during the days of full lockdown, she had pinned on her wooden wall a quote that kept her going, “You cannot be lonely if you like the person you’re alone with (Wayne Dyer).”
Nina studied arts but she specialised in a relatively new field that she likes to call design for experience. Her obsession with good design and specially inclusive design started years ago.
It’s 8.30 and she’s already on the train. Reboosted after a 1-hour cardio session in the gym near Troisvierges, she now has a clearer mind to rethink her agenda for the day. This time she didn’t forget to book the fitness session beforehand like last week, neither the mask and her small little flat bottle of gel that fits perfectly in her pockets. Because “coming to the gym is like paying a visit to the hairdresser now” she said to the receptionist the other day.
The more-than-one-hour trip to town has never been that hard, especially in the mornings when she enjoys her unmissable cup of dark espresso while looking through the window, thinking of nothing (or of things she wants no one to know). Fighting the unbearable Luxembourg traffic isn’t anything someone likes (or maybe) and she probably ranks high in the list. So she normally parks her small Italian car at the yard of a good friend of hers who lives near the Troisvierges train station and says goodbye to her 5-year-old dog that also stays there.
The day in the city is starting after weeks of staying up there, in Wemperhardt.
Home-based work and also train-based work!
Third wagon, between the first and the second lines of seats. That has been Nina’s favorite spot for long. Only a couple of times before and this special Spring morning, a weird man in his 40s that dresses in a red-wine suit and his gigantic suitcase have taken it from her. For the first time, she hasn’t got angry. Now the compulsory mask covers the little scar on the man’s face, but his green eyes stand out and seem like talking. Or perhaps they always did, but the rush of life that prefers the verb “to see” instead of “to look” have kept them unnoticeable. She is happy to see him again. He smiles at her.
The COVID 19’s downsides are countless, but at least it has given the simple things of life a different dimension.
She isn’t wearing her thick-like-bottle-bottom glasses on the train. The mask tarnishes them all the time and that annoys her very much. The task “gym” is ticked on the agenda, but the list is relatively long for a Friday: “Visit ADEM“, “Get a new SIM card”, “Go to the big pharmacy to get a tons of sanitising gel and a special type of C vitamin” and, finally, around 16:00, “Go to Findel” to welcome her sister that has been confined in Madrid for weeks. Voilà, these are the formal tasks. The informal ones? To grab a nice caffè cappuccino at her favorite coffee shop near la Place de Paris. Would she get there on time?
She is teaming up with her work laptop, now powered by a VPN connection and a cloud-based software to run online co-creation workshops and video-based meetings. Since COVID-19 happened, she can work with almost no constraints on the train, at home and anywhere. Last winter that wouldn’t have been even possible. But the agency she works for had to rush at the beginning of the pandemic to implement what the CEO had been always postponing. “Digital Transformation brought by a tiny virus”, she thought. And she smiled ironically.
The Russian Roulette
COVID-19 measures are exhausting because they have taken away the spontaneity of human interaction. Nina and some of us have felt for a while that everyone on the street was the enemy. The opposite certainly applies. For the others, we have been potential walking coronavirus agents.
While we’ve accepted restrictions willingly for the sake of the common safety, our human nature, at some point, wants to break free almost unavoidably because it recalls pleasant experiences that are hard to leave behind. This, and also the fact that, to some, the COVID-19 crisis should be faced with a Russian roulette strategy, has led to assorted ways to cope with the deconfinement restrictions. That might be what the person being forced to wear properly a mask at the entrance of the ADEM Headquarters thinks, and what a couple of Nina’s colleagues do in the office despite the strict restrictions the organisation has put in place.
They are young and chances to die are considerably low. That’s what they think.
Because of that and because few things beat the peace of her comfortable terrace when it comes to designing, she still prefers to work from home, at least until the end of her CDD (contrat de durée déterminée) in one month from now. Visiting ADEM isn’t much different than the experience in the gym. Alcohol-based hand sanitizing gel in several strategic points, ads asking visitors for keeping the two-meter distance, masked job seekers and their nervous, sometimes hopeless and vulnerable looks. Until now, ADEM’s periodic talks between job seekers and employment advisors have been done via phone calls but that may change soon to retake face-to-face interviews, she learnt.
In the shopping mall
The newest shopping mall in Luxembourg city seemed to her quite empty for a Friday before lunch time. She hopes for the new quartier where it is located to do better than the one in De Kierchbierg that turns into a ghost town every day after working hours. To her, it’s not even scary, it’s just the sad depiction of cement winning the battle against life. As a designer, as a person who cares about creating inclusive experiences and lively places, that’s an uncomfortable truth. Queueing, waiting in a 5-people lengthy row, she thought of the future of this gigantic building and all the others under construction in the area. If the coronavirus-related crisis, as experts think, will change our perspectives of life, the way we work, how we consume, how we entertain and what we invest in, the use of these cement giants may have to be rethought too.
The SIM card switch is done. She was kindly invited to join another mobile operator some weeks ago via SMS. She bet on the power of a smaller provider but fate made this unexpected move. Many small companies and others not that small have shut down or will do in the months to come.
While rushing to the bathroom she saw a red summer dress and fell in love with it. Surprised by two welcoming sellers whose upper-body outfits were halfway between a ghost costume and an astronaut, she realised a steam machine was giving a warm shower to a bunch of carefully aligned hanged clothes. Surprised, she turned around and asked them with an eye gesture what it was. “It’s to disinfect them after someone has tried them out. We do the same with the dressing rooms. That’s why the queue”. Uncomfortable, she decided to continue her way to the bathroom only to find out that the sanitising gel was almost over. But she had hers in the right pocket. “See, that’s why”, she thought.
The biggest pharmacy in the city
It might not be but, to her, that’s the biggest pharmacy in town because it’s the only one that imports a special type of C vitamin that she likes to take every other month. And it was the only one willing to deliver some sanitising gel home during the toughest days of confinement back in March and April. “That’s the power of being a loyal customer, and what makes a business and a brand… unforgettable” she told them before saying goodbye. Her mother, who lives in the commune called Hesper, got her bank deliver cash home during bleift doheem. Cash delivered home! What a smart move, especially for the elder population who was advised to stay home as much as possible.
What a day, so far. Nina is tired of queuing and of putting on gel every now and then, but she is happy to see an awaken city. Who could have said only a few months ago that she would miss the urban noise and even the (little) traffic jams? Masked and unmasked people walk along the Avenue de la Liberté in the midst of quarries and construction pits. Despite the lockdown, the tram project has moved faster because of a less busy city. Nina is heading to the Ville Haute (the city center) to grab her long awaited cappuccino after a colourless sandwich lunch.
Cappuccino on the go
Sitting at the Kinnekswiss park, Nina sips her cappuccino while transferring some money to pay unavoidable bills. She is used to seeing her salary vanish in a couple of days every end of the month like the other millennials and their mortgaged lives. She cannot even recall the last time she went to the bank branch. Was it to sign her house loan, maybe? However, the mobile app she is using now is more powerful and sophisticated than the previous versions and, due to cybersecurity concerns that appeared with the health crisis, she has to use a digital token every single time she accesses it. “It’s all right”, she thinks, “as long as I can avoid spending my time at the branch and my data is well kept”.
She would have preferred to sit down at the coffee shop terrace, reading an article on the smartphone and seeing people passing by. But tables were full and other people were waiting too. The coffee shop cannot have the same number of tables available following the rules imposed to restaurants and bars. And summer concerts like the jazz festival won’t happen this year and who knows when.
Her mobile app tells her that the bus Nummer 16 is coming in 10 minutes. Slowly, she stands up and takes a picture of the vast grassy park plateau. “It’s just so nice to be here again”, she thinks. The green of the trees is vibrant and tells her silently that life goes on.
On the bus, masked and careful, she asks her search engine what people coming back from Spain should do once landing in Luxembourg. Fortunately, compulsory quarantine isn’t required but a voluntary COVID-19 test instead.
“And my sister has to do it before seeing my mother” she thought categorically. The list of labs where one can do the test are listed somewhere on an official page of the Luxembourg government. She pins the page, posts the park picture on Instagram afterwards, and decides to close the smartphone and just relax and have a look at how the European neighborhood is transforming relatively quickly.
Findel Airport is 10 stops away from her current location and she has enough time to think of her next holiday destination now that Europe is mostly reopened, at least for summer time.
Near the once biggest supermarket in the city, she sees a former colleague from the years at the big consulting firm. She knocks on the window and waves at her enthusiastically. Because now, everytime she sees someone again, she is happy to know that they are safe.
Is Nina’s story, somehow, yours?
Mapping of COVID-19 impacts per activity
This short story depicts what a day in the city of Luxembourg looks like for a common citizen. Nina’s thoughts can be anyone else’s reflections and concerns.
To give you a more comprehensive look at how customer-facing organisations are being impacted by the COVID-19 crisis in terms of client services, user experience, etc, we have put together the table below.
It’s based on an analysis done by our colleagues of PwC France. Each type of organisation is analysed under for criteria.
What we think
Through the lines of this story you will find yourself somehow. The shadowy time of lockdown, the sensation of peril, the moment when you realised that your friend could be your enemy. And also now, the moment when life as we know it is getting back, and what is at stake with it.
[This story is based on real personal experiences]