Vienna in the time of COVID – Chapter 5

It has now officially been over a week since the isolation restrictions were put into place and I’m happy to report my wife and I are still on speaking terms, our toilet paper game is strong, and the apartment has never been cleaner (another of my wife’s useful hobbies during mandated segregation with yours truly is a deep clean of the apartment. The other day she asked if I thought it would be possible to lift the microwave so she could scrub underneath it. I said I thought it would. You have to make hay while the sun shines, right?)

We spent a large part of Saturday in separate rooms, giving each other some space while tending to our own social networks. I chatted with my Australian correspondent, Jess (second shout out, Jess!), while Alex caught up firstly with her cousin and then with her two best friends. All of these interactions took place in the digital world, of course, both because Jess refuses to travel from Australia to Austria for a quick chat and a coffee, and because this is what it means to be responsible in the time of COVID.

These chats were beneficial as it gave my wife and I a break from staring into each other’s faces for a while (you have to let them miss you sometimes) and because we could lean into our friendships without putting anyone at risk of infection.

My brother, Matthew, shared a quote with me that bears repeating: During these times we have to isolate, but we don’t have to be isolated. 

Prior to the commencement of the weekend, Alex and I strapped on our shoes, made a mental note of the exact length of three feet (the Austrian Government’s recommended keep-away-from-me distance), and steeled ourselves to go shopping.

Prior to pandemic precautions, one of my wife’s favourite pastimes was our weekly grocery shop. This is not hyperbole; she genuinely loves grocery shopping. While most people who travel to far and exotic lands like to see the landmarks, the temples, and the monuments, my wife is most excited about checking out what people from neighbouring lands like to stock on their supermarket shelves. Seeing her walk up and down the aisles with a grin on her face like a kid at a carnival is a damn sweet thing. 

These days, however, the act of popping to the shops has become a battle royale for sanitary products and a loaf of bread. The most pressing question that arises for me from this shopping madness is this: why toilet paper? 

If you have swallowed the aggrandising of the cheap and dirty media rags *coughdailymailcoughcoughheraldsun* and genuinely believe these are the end days, and that armageddon is scheduled for the week after next, why, of all the products available to sustain life, would anyone head straight for toilet paper? 

Granted, I enjoy a satisfying wipe as much as the next person, but when compared to clean water and carbohydrates, it hardly rates as a priority on the hierarchy of needs. Not to mention that toilet paper is a product that can easily be substituted. If we were to run out of our rolls of Softis, I would happily transition to kitchen roll, then onto serviettes, then to facial tissues, then, if times were getting desperate, newspaper and catalogues, old linen, new linen, old clothes, new clothes, leaves from the houseplants, and finally that packet of leftover tortillas that’s been in the pantry for awhile.

I see the panic and greediness of filling your trolley with twenty packets of toilet paper as nothing more than a lack of imagination.

The Friday before last, at the beginning of the social shutdown, we were stunned to find the supermarkets stripped of 80% of their goods. We had heard the reports from other countries, of pasta and sauce shortages in Italy and wine and condom shortages in France (it’s all about priorities), but our local supermarket had always been a place of peace and stability. It took traversing to four additional supermarkets for us to complete our usual weekly shop.

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In German, they have a word for people who display the hoarder style of shopping —  Hamsterkäufer — which translates to hamster buyers, and is essential a cute way of referring to selfish assholes who indulge in buying copious amounts of things they don’t need while simultaneously depriving others of goods they desperately require. The German term is useful as it’s much quicker to say.

My mother, who is a pharmacist and so currently in the thick of it, told me that the Australian pharmacy board had to release an official declaration stating that a person was only allowed to receive one month’s worth of medication at a time. The absurdity that they would have to step in and, like a parent scolding their child at the supermarket register, look the public in the eye and say “No, I said you could only have one piece of candy. Now, off you go, go put the other ones back” is sad to say the least.

But I’m happy to report that the message appears to be sinking in, or alternatively that the hamster buyers have all trapped themselves in their own homes under mountains of bags of flour and toilet paper, leaving the rest of us free to shop as normal, and that this week the shelves were almost back to their usual state, and it only took two supermarkets to round out our shop. 

As Alex’s parents are playing it smart and keeping away from others as much as possible, we also did some of their shopping on their behalf (no, don’t call us heroes, come on, it’s too much. What? Paragons of the community? Now you’re just trying to make me blush). As we trundled around the aisles, working our way through their shopping list, I couldn’t help but notice that a significant percentage of their purchases included a rather large volume of red wine.

We all use what strategies we can to make it through this incarceration.

Tomorrow: Fashion.