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 emporter...to 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.