Paris’ new normal is less cranky than expected

People walk past a restaurant closed in the third lockdown imposed to slow the rate of contagion of the coronavirus disease, in Nice, France, Thursday. (Photo: Reuters)

What is the new normal here in Paris? The answer is less cranky than you might think. But it’s starting to do well – it’s getting a bit too much.

We are more than a year away from #TheMoment, on March 17, the date of the start of the first confinement in France. At this crossroads where countries made different political decisions, France has chosen to put health at the forefront.

Now, as we settle into a third lockdown, it is surprising to meet someone without a mask on the street. Every few streets or so, outside every pharmacy, there are little folding huts where people can get a quick antigen test. It is also easy to get PCR tests, which are done in the lab. All Covid-19 tests are free, and people are encouraged to get tested if they have any doubts about infection.

After a very slow start, France is accelerating its vaccination campaign. Now, in addition to vaccination centers, pharmacies and doctors can administer the AstraZeneca vaccine and will soon be able to do the same with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. At first, a large part of the population was resistant to vaccination. Then, as vaccine supplies were slow to arrive in the European Union, the joke was that the French against the tide suddenly all wanted to be vaccinated. Public figures were publicly vaccinated to encourage those who were reluctant. Such moments of lightness are important in a country where we haven’t been able to go to a bar or restaurant since October, and probably not until May.

Because France is part of the EU, we tend to compare ourselves to our neighbors. France’s first lockdown of almost two months was one of the tightest in Europe, and we had a second lockdown that lasted a month and a half in the fall. We have been wearing masks every time we leave home since July 20 and have suffered two successive curfews.

Now, 19 out of 101 French departments, including the Paris region, are confined for the third time, due to the British variant which represents three quarters of new cases. As the EU and UK fight over vaccine doses, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government is in discussions over whether France should join its “red list” from which trips to the UK are made. forbidden – “Now that they have given us their variant, my neighbor sniped. On the positive side, we have gained an hour this time: the curfew starts at 7 pm.

Surprisingly, the French have been fairly reasonable overall, compared to some of their neighbors, from Belgium to Austria, who have staged riots against the curfew. But patience is starting to wear down a bit.

Instead of riots, Parisians have spent the last year reading. With all cultural venues and festivals closed or canceled, people turned to books, and despite the closure of France’s 3,300 independent bookstores for three months in 2020, losses were only 3.3% per compared to the previous year.

A recent law gave bookstores the status of ‘essential businesses’, meaning they can, along with grocery stores and pharmacies, remain open during the current lockdown. Oddly enough, record shops, florists, hairdressers and chocolate shops were also allowed to remain open.

We also cycled. According to the Vélo et Territoires association, the number of cyclists in Paris has increased by 70% since May. This has helped city officials transform an additional 50 kilometers of traffic lanes into cycle lanes. Yet the heart of everyday Parisian life are its cafes, and without them Paris is unlike itself. The most recent closure of bars and cafes was on October 6, while restaurants closed for service on October 30, leaving only the option of take-out and delivery.

But the restaurants have not been abandoned. Restaurants and cafes have the choice between government aid of up to 10,000 euros per month or compensation equal to 20% of their income from 2019 up to a limit of 200,000 euros per month. Most large bistros and restaurants are closed, but neighborhood bistros are often open.

Masked Parisians have come together legally throughout the year – to continue a tradition of protest. There have been protests against police brutality, sexual harassment, poverty, nuclear weapons and working conditions, and protests in support of medical staff or teachers, climate change policy and political prisoners in Turkey, Algeria or Saudi Arabia. A motley team of conspiracy theorists and groups against the restrictions and wearing masks are appearing in various cities to speak out as well.

Parisian real estate remains expensive, and unless you are very wealthy, apartments are small. The upscale neighborhoods, mostly on the left bank of the city, have emptied, their inhabitants having temporarily decamped into second homes in Brittany, Normandy or the south of France. The first lockdown led to a stampede of families who decided to leave the city for good, often for the northern suburbs, accelerating a trend that began with the extension of metro lines just outside the city’s perimeter.

But most Parisians are still stuck at home in confined spaces.

Childhood is an area where France stands out: following the first confinement, the government has made it a priority to keep schools open so as not to disrupt education. According to statistics collected by Unesco, French schools were among the European schools least likely to close in the past year. Children aged six and over are required to wear masks and classes are held in person as usual (except for high schools).

However, the university classes were all conducted online, which was particularly difficult for foreign students who were new to France and stuck in front of their computers in tiny rooms.

Last but not least, culture, an essential component of urban life, is still waiting. Lucas Destrem, a specialist in urban planning and political and cultural geography, recently redesigned the emblematic Parisian metro plan in support of cultural venues awaiting opening. Its approach consists of replacing metro stations with the names of museums, art centers, cinemas, theaters, libraries or music conservatories. The card has been widely praised in the cultural community.

In the meantime, some Parisians calm down in an unusual way: by behaving like the tourists who usually invade our streets. It’s increasingly common for Parisians to treat themselves to a hotel weekend, and hotels, in turn, are turning to locals for business, like the new Hotel Paradiso. Run by production company and movie chain MK2, the hotel offers giant screens in every room and an outdoor rooftop cinema, complete with popcorn, snacks, and a restaurant that delivers meals to local areas. bedrooms. For Parisians who are already big cinephiles and who have 200 € (7,300 baht) to spare for a rare treat, this could be a way to fill this unusual and temporary cultural void while waiting for the rest.© 2021 Zocalo public square

Olivia Snaije is a Paris-based journalist and editor who writes about the Middle East, multiculturalism, translation, literature and graphic novels.

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