I hope the start of 2022 has found all of you in fine health and a (relatively) optimistic frame of mind.
Despite breathless headlines about skyrocketing infection rates around the world, daily life here in the French capital seems to carry on in its measured, elegant routine. Cafes are full. Boutiques bustle. Children toddle off to school. Joggers brave the cold.
But upon closer inspection, the French, famous for their nonchalance, are taking no chances. Of course, masks are worn by everyone indoors. They are also worn by half the Parisians outdoors. Hand sanitizer is ubiquitous in supermarkets and post offices. Passengers space themselves respectfully on trains, nodding with a well-worn patience and a mutual understanding.
Yes, the teachers have gone on strike. Yes, there are protests about the new restrictions requiring proof of vaccination (not just a recent negative test result) for entry into cafes, restaurants, museums, and concerts, among other things. Not everyone is happy, but Parisians are never really happy.
Not for very long, anyway. But then again, they’re never really at rock bottom, either. They shrug off misfortune, consider tragedy a part of life, and savor small pleasures that keep them afloat in, if not a happy medium, certainly a fairly neutral one.
They also keep themselves surprisingly well-informed. When I mentioned the Novavax vaccine that recently became available in France, my barista knew all about it. She mentioned how it had less side effects than other vaccines and how the technology was more traditional, working like vaccines that had been developed over the past 20 and 30 years. She thought she’d read that the company producing it was based in Maryland. (I think she’s correct.)
Initially reluctant to get vaccinated, the French finally got on board, opting for the collective good. 78% have received at least one dose. Still, infection rates remain disconcertingly high. The new variant doesn’t seem to care about your vaccine certificate, even if symptoms, hospitalizations, and deaths are reduced as a result of being vaccinated.
The French government’s failure to acknowledge the role of personal behavior (not huddling indoors at cafes without a mask on) or the effectiveness of regular Covid tests for the unvaccinated (the tests allow the reluctant to still go about life, with confirmation that they are healthy) has proved problematic.
Anti-vaxxers can claim that vaccines don’t work (I believe they do, to a certain extent), and the vaccinated continue to behave as if they were immune (the 20 or 30 friends and relatives of mine who have been triple-jabbed and are now recovering from Covid prove that no one is immune, even if they are vaccinated, though their symptoms may sometimes be moderated.)
The only time-tested remedies for this health situation remain patience and discipline. I’d love to lounge in my favorite cafe with friends and strangers. But it simply isn’t safe. Doing so increases the chance of contracting the virus by 98%, according to a recent medical study. So I sit on the terrace or get my cafe creme to go, and look forward to brighter days.
However, sustaining the economy remains a priority with governments around the world, as it should. But we should all be aware that it comes with a price: the prolonging of this pandemic. Of course, I have the luxury of not being required to go to a job every day. I don’t have to interact with colleagues, customers, or the public. I am lucky. I can wait this out. Most people don’t have that option.
This acknowledgement of my good fortune obligates me to be even more considerate of others. I wear a mask. I keep my distance. I don’t socialize indoors. I hardly socialize outdoors. I don’t condemn others for their opinions on vaccines or the epidemic. I don’t push my opinions on others, either.
Following the lead of my fellow citizens, I take comfort in small things. The smell of fresh baguettes drifting from a boulangerie. My eccentric neighbors walking their equally eccentric dogs. New shirt fabrics in the Charvet boutique window.
So, to paraphrase the late, great Kenny Rogers in his hit song ‘The Gambler’, Paris and I are holding, but we’re not folding. There’s still money on the table, and the next hand will soon be dealt.