Over the last year and a half, the way people live, work, socialise, and much more, has completely changed. While we are beginning to return to normal in some ways, it is also possible that we will never return to the way things were before the pandemic. So, in this episode, let’s look at which country is currently the most ‘normal’ in the world?

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Vocabulary List

Accustomed (adj) – familiar with something

She quickly became accustomed to his strange sleeping pattern

To invest in (v) – to put money, effort, time, etc. into something in order to improve it or get an advantage

My favourite restaurant invested in iPads to make ordering easier 

Viable (adj) – able to work as intended or able to succeed

With government restrictions, it is no longer viable to hold our event 

Extent (n) – amount 

We don’t know the extent of his injuries 

Normalcy (n) – the state of being normal (also said as normality) 

Now that the war is over, perhaps our region will return to normalcy 

Indicator (n) – something that shows what a situation is like 

Increasing sales is an indicator that the food industry is recovering

congested (adj) – too much traffic and movement is difficult 

The roads are always congested on national holidays

Conversely (adv) – in an opposite way 

Children from rich areas are encouraged to go to university. Conversely, children from poor areas don’t have as many opportunities

Controversy (n) – a lot of disagreement or argument about something, usually because it affects or is important to many people

There is a lot of controversy surrounding the Tokyo Olympics      

At first, the title of this episode might seem like a strange idea. How can somewhere be the most ‘normal’? And what even is a ‘normal’ country? Often Europeans and Westerners, like myself, tend to think of our culture and countries as ordinary and everywhere else (especially the Middle East, Africa, and Asia) as different and maybe strange. I don’t think this at all, and actually I don’t think there is such a thing as a ‘normal’ country, unless we are talking about questions in political science about if a country is really a country. So, what do I mean? Why have I titled this episode ‘what is the most ‘normal’ country in the world’?

Covid-19 has changed every country, territory, continent and region. The way we live our lives, travel, work, socialise, buy things, and much more, is in many cases fundamentally different to before the pandemic. While some people have started to talk about the ‘new normal’, others are still hoping that the world will return to the way it used to be. Personally, I think that it will be difficult to return to our pre-pandemic lives. Societies, and the people who live in those societies, have started to get used to, or become accustomed to, new ways of doing things. 

For example, many businesses have adjusted their practices and invested in new technology and equipment to stay financially viable during lockdowns and quarantines. In my hometown, restaurants and pubs began offering delivery services, using new safety materials, and using ordering apps so you don’t need to order drinks or food at the bar. And, for companies and businesses that couldn’t change, many unfortunately had to close permanently. 

However, you might think differently to me, and that’s ok! In fact, if you are more optimistic than I am, I actually hope you are correct. I wish the world would return to the way it used to be – it would be easier to socialise, travel, work, etc. All the time, I see and hear people talking about what they are going to do after Covid. Earlier today, a journalist and media professor who I was meeting with said he hoped we could meet in person after this Covid issue is finished. And I think everyone has asked themselves the question, ‘when is the world going to be normal again?’

As I mentioned, probably every country in the world is different now, compared to before the pandemic. However, which country, or place, is the closest to ‘normal.’ Here, ‘normal’ means the way life was before January 2020. By looking at how things have changed, and to what extent things have changed, maybe we could see where life is the most normal and where life has changed the most!

Fortunately for us, the Economist magazine has done most of the hard work already. They have created ‘The global normalcy index’ which tries to answer the question ‘Is the world returning to pre-pandemic life?’ While some areas of life are returning to the way they used to be, perhaps others will take a longer time to normalise, or perhaps are now permanently changed. The ‘normalcy index’ looks at the way behaviour has changed due to the pandemic. The Economist selected 50 of the world’s largest economies that together make up 90% of global GDP and 76% of the world’s population. Pre-pandemic behaviour is given a base score of 100, while behaviour now is either given a lower score (if there is less of that behaviour) or a higher score (if there is more of that behaviour). 

To do this, they used eight different indicators, and compared the differences between now and pre-pandemic. For instance, they looked at how many people are using public transport in major cities, how congested the traffic is, and the number of domestic and international flights. In addition, the Economist wanted to check how people’s social lives and free time has altered, so they examined how much time people spend away from their houses, how many people are going to the cinema, and how many people are attending sporting events. And finally, they checked how busy shops are and how many people are working in offices. These eight factors, when combined, can help us understand how life has changed over the last year, and which places have remained the most normal! 

What are their findings? In March 2020, right at the beginning of the pandemic for most of the world, the levels of normalcy in many countries dropped significantly. Countries imposed restrictions, lockdowns, and quarantines on their people. Most recreational places were closed, people forced to work from home, schools shut, and almost all travel limited. On the Economist’s index, the global average score was 35 compared to the normal score of 100. Over the past 18 months the global average has steadily improved, and now is around 70. So, although our countries are more normal than the beginning of the pandemic, we still have a long way to go before we have returned to our pre-pandemic lives.

Despite this, just looking at the global average hides the reality of the situation around the world. There is significant variation between countries and between the eight indicators. According to the Economist, none of the 50 countries they tracked have returned to normal. However, in February 2021 China did briefly reach pre-pandemic levels due to more movies being released and people travelling to celebrate Lunar new year. At the moment, Hong Kong, which has had an effective response to Covid-19, is at the top of the Global normalcy rankings meaning life there is the closest to before the pandemic. Other countries with relatively normal lives include Egypt, Nigeria and Pakistan. On the other hand, Malaysia, which is suffering from a serious wave of infections, is currently at the bottom of the rankings. 

Another interesting way to look at the ranking is to see which countries have changed the most over the past few weeks. For example, Turkey, Chile and Egypt are quickly moving closer to normalcy as they remove restrictions and people return to their old habits. Conversely, South Africa, Czech Republic, and Indonesia, are moving away from normalcy. South Africa, for example, is suffering another wave of COVID infections and, at the same time, is experiencing nationwide protests. 

Next, I think it’s useful to look at each of the different indicators used by the Economist to test how normal a country is. Transport and travel has recovered relatively well over the last year and is getting closer to normal levels. Across the globe, more people are using buses and trains, while the roads around cities are getting busier. The exception, however, is flights, and especially international flights. With border restrictions still in place in most places, traveling internationally is difficult. 

At the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, behaviour connected to recreation and entertainment was practically zero. Due to lockdowns, which in some cases were very strictly enforced, people spent most of their time at home while most entertainment facilities were closed. While this is slowly changing, the Economists data suggests that recovery has been slow in cinemas and movie theatres. People’s behaviour seems to have changed, and this could cause the movie industry to also change forever. For example, there has been controversy recently as major film companies are releasing new movies online and on streaming platforms instead of in the theatre. Black Widow, the latest Marvel movie, was released both on Disney+ and in theatres. With people more used to watching things online, and more people using the likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney+, perhaps our entertainment industries will never return to normal. 

And finally, the way we work and the we shop has changed dramatically, and perhaps will also never return to how it used to be. More companies and employees are keen to keep flexible working arrangements and to use remote work options like zoom. Perhaps they have also realised that, for major companies, renting expensive offices in the centres of cities is not always necessary. Employees can often work well from home! People are also buying more products online. Do you think this will stay the same? 

Final Thought

Overall, Hong Kong is the most normal place in the world. By normal, I mean that life there is the closest to pre-pandemic behaviour. For almost every country in the world, our behaviour still has a long way to go before we return to normalcy. While things like transport and travel are slowly returning to pre-pandemic levels, the way we work, shop, and spend our free time may have changed forever. 

How about your country? How close is it to normal? How much has your life changed due to the pandemic? Do you think the world will ever return to normalcy? Or should we accept, and get used to, the ‘new normal’? 

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By Tom Wilkinson

Host and founder of Thinking in English, Tom is committed to providing quality and interesting content to all English learners. Previously a research student at a top Japanese university and with a background in English teaching, political research, and Asian languages, Tom is now working fulltime on bettering Thinking in English!

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