Coronavirus and Life in Paris

I’ve hesitated to write about the coronavirus situation in general and here in Paris specifically. It is everywhere in the newspapers, on television, and online, as it should be. We haven’t faced a more serious crisis in a very long time.

I just didn’t think I could add anything to the global conversation, and I wasn’t sure that readers of this blog would want to read more about it here. I know that this space is considered an oasis, moated from news and politics, where you can come to savor Old Money traditions and contemplate aspects of this enduring philosophy and way of life.

However, as comments and emails came in from readers asking how things were here in Paris during this strange and dangerous time, I realized that sharing insights and information might not be a bad thing, even welcome. So I’ll offer some recent observations and experiences that I hope will provide a measure of comfort and even amusement.

(At the time of this writing, all boutiques, cafes, and restaurants in France are closed. Only grocery stores, pharmacies, and petrol stations remain open. You can get coffee and bread to go in some places, but it’s only go. Residents of France have been asked to limit social interaction, but they can still move about freely. By the time you read this, restrictions on movement may have been put in place, via curfews or lockdowns.) So, here are some things to know…

First, Parisians do not panic. It’s just not elegant. A few weeks ago, I noticed that the older and wiser citizens of the city began to retreat from restaurants and decline social invitations. While the younger generation played down the risks as recently as yesterday (sunbathing and boozing it up on the riverbank, embracing and kissing cheeks, all during a global pandemic) it seems now–with an impending, Italian-style lockdown on the horizon–everyone has their head on straight and is preparing for a long, challenging road ahead. Gloves and face masks seemed to appear out of nowhere today. Something in the French psyche flipped today, allowing reason and resolve to enter. You may see news reports and videos of crazed shoppers fighting over toilet paper in stores. Those people are not Parisians.

Compassion and thoughtfulness remain, though, running deep, and it is inspiring. Luxury conglomerate LVMH announced that its fragrance and cosmetics divisions are going to manufacture and distribute hand sanitizer to French healthcare workers, free of charge.

Carrefour and Intermarche, two large grocery store chains in the country, will open their stores a half hour early each day now, to allow citizens over the age of 70 to shop safely and get everything they need, before they open the stores to the general public.

Not making the headlines…Cafes owners, faced with closing their doors last Saturday night at midnight for who knows how long, sent their employees home with bags of surplus food…and fat folds of cash slipped discreetly around the counter by well-heeled expatriate clients.  It’s less an act of charity and more one of solidarity. Everyone is trying to get through this, and some are better positioned to do so than others.

It is no small comfort that the French government has acted with integrity and credibility. From the president to local health officials, announcements and press conferences are orderly and articulate.  On-the-ground responses are deliberate and timely. A long-range perspective stacked with short-term objectives is presented. Hyperbole has been shelved. Science guides policy. Testing is a priority. No one is playing the political blame-game, and responsibility for reducing infection rates and increasing survival rates is shared by leaders and citizens alike.

Even with all these positive contributing factors, informed individuals within the government here tell me the French healthcare system will be taxed to its limit in the coming weeks and months. The strength of its people may be tested as well. But as one boutique owner told me last week, “We’re French. We will survive.”

Thank you for your concern. We’re doing fine here. Stay safe and healthy wherever you are.

  • BGT










13 thoughts on “Coronavirus and Life in Paris

  1. Byron,

    I agree with you on the government’s response.

    But the citizens (?) It’s a gong show.

    The freeways out of Paris are gridlocked this morning and the trains are packed. What better way to spread the virus. Two for the price of one: within the carriages and cars and then into other towns where, as medical professionals have pointed out, the local facilities have no hope of coping. The government has said repeatedly “ stay at home !”. So what if your flat is small. Stay at home. It is a war.

    Did you see TF1 on Sunday evening ? People having a jolly old time alongside Canal du Nord. No wonder the Doctors interviewed are (angry), to put it mildly. One ‘lady’ restaurateur was basically saying virus, stuff the virus. And everyone laughed and had a good time.

    The President has called for solidarity but now is the moment of truth. Several generations of fostering individualism and the ‘me me, me’ culture does not lend itself to asking people to stand together.

    It’s good to hear that patrons assisted the restaurant staff. I’m pretty certain they were Americans. When I’ve been sick, there’s been terrorism or suchlike only my American colleagues wrote and asked me how I was. In the middle of last night I received a text asking if we were safe. Where from ? Houston. An American. Not France, not South Africa not the UK.

    Again, I agree the government is trying very hard although Macron did try a stunt with the municipal elections. Now he needs to crack the whip where it hurts and show he has real spine. People might not like him afterwards but they’re more likely to cooperate in the future.

    The citizens I’ve seen so far: no, Sir.


  2. First of all be safe. Perfect time to brew some coffee, light a fire in the fireplace and catchup on your reading. If you have a neighbor in a high risk group just take the time to check on them and maybe prepare an extra portion of food or run an errand to the market for them.

  3. Very well written. I especially like the spirit of your your last sentence – “We’re French. We will survive.”

  4. What’s going on out there is terrible. People are sick and dying. The economy is cratering, the stock market is tanking. But inside my apartment I am quite enjoying myself, thanks, in part, to my old money values and lifestyle. I’m reading great books, cooking great meals, drinking great wine and catching up on long delayed personal and household projects and tasks. Patience, perspective, perseverance and a cheerful attitude. The old money way of making the best of a bad situation.

  5. To build on what @Amy has said – this too shall pass. Eventually, we’ll be released from home confinement. Let’s make the most of 2020!

  6. Thank you for writing about the situation in Paris, Byron, and reassuring us that you’re doing okay. We know you value privacy and reserve, but your readers care about your well being.

    In my office in the Upper Midwest of the U.S., we are staggering work shifts and some are working from home. Interesting that the lowest paid staff are the ones still obligated to go into the office, as it is still open to the public on a limited basis and our work is largely paper-based. Additionally, we are expected to maintain our usual work pace, despite the disruption. I do not work in a field that is life or death. This is the sometimes misplaced American work ethic.

    I agree with David’s comment that we have fostered a culture of individualism–“Nobody will tell me what I can and can’t do.” And the benefit of optimism has its limits. This is when those of us who have a tinge of anxiety come out ahead. Toilet paper? I always have toilet paper!!

  7. In the Chicago area, and I am still required to go to work every day, and in contact with the general public. It’s not great. We have between 50-100 employees and customers in here, several who do not understand personal space at the best of times, and some who say it’s a hoax. People on the street and in public are looking at each other warily. It shows class/income difference. A lot of lower income jobs are not able to be done at home.

  8. Hello Byron,

    I’m so glad to hear that you are doing well. Thank you for keeping us updated, and take care of yourself.

  9. Please keep us updated on how things are going for you. Glad to know you are okay.

    I am fortunate to have an employer who allows us to, and is set up to, work remotely, and a governor who immediately declared an emergency. Schools and most government services are now online. Nonessential businesses have either shutdown or reduced their hours. Everyone here in Maine is taking this very seriously.

    Please allow me to give an enormous thank you to all healthcare workers, EMS and police who are on the front line treating patients, and to all the teachers in the US who, with very little notice, created online versions of their classrooms so students can still get their educations. My hat is off to all of you.

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