By Robyn

We at International Neighbors have always enjoyed sharing our different cultures. The pandemic has affected us all, but it’s very interesting to look at how we differently deal with COVID restrictions country to country.

Last Spring I remember delivering a birthday cake to an International Neighbor friend in a neighboring town, wearing a mask and gloves and socially distancing. She was surprised to see me since her own European country was under total lockdown. No one was allowed to leave home except one half hour a day for essential shopping. I was surprised she would think I could not leave Ann Arbor. I don’t think of myself as an individual rights waving American. But to not be able to leave Ann Arbor? That’s where I would draw the line.

Things change, but at the time of this Newsletter, in-person schools are open in most European countries. But in the U.S. many communities, like Ann Arbor, have opted for 100% remote learning. What does that say about us culturally?

Here in Michigan we have 587 different school districts, more than in all of Western Europe. That means this autumn 587 different school boards made different decisions to physically open, continue with remote learning, or do a hybrid of the two. And individually pay for COVID safety measures. In Europe, on the other hand, education is more centralized, and decisions about in-person schooling likely to be decided at the national level. Generally distance learning is not an option, unless COVID cases spike in a school.

With the recent COVID spike the governments of France, Germany, and Britain have shut down bars and restaurants subsidizing the furloughed workers up to 80 % of their wages, while keeping schools open. They also have strong social safety nets like universal health care. Ironically in the U.S. we are more likely to see bars and restaurants open, promoting private enterprise, and schools closed. Many Americans are culturally opposed to government wage subsidies, preferring a complicated business loan program last Spring to help those struggling in the pandemic. And Congress has not been able to agree on another aid package in recent months, although that could change.

There is no single answer during these uncertain times, but one day the pandemic will end, and we will look back and reflect on how we got through it all. Successfully. And that would be a classic optimistic American ending.