return icon

Coronavirus: Paris returns to cafe life with new normal

Unrecognisable by its emptiness during lockdown, Paris rediscovers its raison d'être.

Fear isn't something 88-year-old Mathilde gives into easily. Sitting on the terrace of her local bistro in Paris, hours after it reopened this week, she sipped a fizzy drink, as the morning sunshine drew perspiration from her glass.

"I've been waiting for this," she said. "To be surrounded by people, not to be alone anymore!"

Mathilde had dressed for the occasion: a printed dress, perfectly styled hair.

Public life here has always demanded a little extra effort. For its cafes and restaurants that means new rules on seating, new cleaning procedures, hand sanitiser everywhere you look.

"Of course I'm scared," said her friend Annie, 10 years younger. "But, you know, at our age we don't have much time left, so at some point we have to just do it." 

Why an empty Paris lost its identity

Many people have expressed relief that Paris's bars and cafes are open again; their terraces full.

There was something about the emptiness of this city, in particular, during lockdown that felt especially poignant, says Joan Dejean, an author and historian of French culture, because the destiny of Paris was to be seen: "Paris was intentionally constructed for people in the streets, to be viewed, to be appreciated visually," she told me.

"If there are no pedestrians looking at everything, from the gardens to the great houses to the Ile St Louis, they lose their raison d'être."

Image caption Under lockdown Paris was far removed from its usual bustling pace

During the lockdown, she says, there were two cities that were particularly photographed for their emptiness: Venice and Paris. Venice, to show what the city looked like without tourists; Paris, to show how difficult it was to recognise the city without people enjoying it.

Image caption Delphine spent some of the lockdown on a camping chair outside with other parents in Montmartre

"I loved it even more," said Delphine, a long-term Paris resident. "You heard the birds. I had an end-of-lockdown blues; I felt a bit attacked that people were back in the streets."

The gradual return to normality is recreating familiar frictions.

Delphine has two young daughters and lives near the Sacré-Cœur Cathedral. As lockdown began to ease, she and other young parents took camping stools into the streets of Montmartre to watch their children play football.

Recently, Delphine says, a man leaned out of a window and told them that he was working from home, and to stop making so much noise.

"Behind him we could hear his wife screaming at us to leave," Delphine said. "Clearly they were at breaking point."

Not all Parisians were unhappy

Alane Kadouri, a psychiatrist at the Cochin Hospital in Paris, says he was surprised by the number of people who actually preferred confinement.

"Those who are afraid of social relationships felt secure during the lockdown," he explained. "Those who find love life complicated didn't have to ask themselves questions; and the teens were happy to stay at home to play video games and be on social media."

But, he said, there was a big gap between the experience of ordinary citizens and many nurses at his hospital.

"One in ten nurses was attacked during the lockdown," he said. "Some were asked to leave their flats by their neighbours, because of the contagion risk."

Now normal life is returning, he says, he's seeing some of them break down. "They're all afraid of the second wave, and they're exhausted," he said. "I've heard from 30-year-old nurses who are having trouble climbing stairs."

Who is important in today's Paris?

Rolande Mariel is a nurse, also working at the Cochin Hospital. As pressure on the health system eases, and non-Covid patients return for treatment, she says public support seems to be waning.

"When our patients started coming back they were as aggressive as usual," she said. "I told them it was useless to clap for us every evening if they're going to behave like that! People have short memories. After the Bataclan [terrorist attack], the cops were heroes; now everyone thinks they want to kill us."

As this city begins to come alive again after months of social and economic coma, the sense of who is important to Paris has been reshuffled.

As one researcher put it, who is most valuable to you: a top executive working from home, or the man who delivers food to your mother?

And what was evident during the yellow vest protests of recent years has been brought home starkly again: the people who make Paris work - the rubbish collectors, train drivers, teachers and nurses - can't afford to live here.

"We won't come out of this quite the same," believes geographer Luc Gwiazdzinski.

A lot of wealthier Parisians are already thinking of moving out of the capital - as many of them did during the lockdown itself - and teleworking from homes in the countryside.

That may benefit smaller provincial towns, he says, in a country where Paris dominates the French economy. But what does that mean for life in the capital itself?

"Paris is like the phoenix; it will be reborn," he said. "Paris is not just an economic hub, it has a romantic, imaginary world. Its image as the capital of love, of romance hasn't been damaged. But for people living here it was a different story." BBC


Carbon market to help achieve net zero emissions

Greenhouse gas emissions in Vietnam increased rapidly over the past three decades in direct proportion to the economy’s growth.


Buckwheat Flower Festival returns to Ha Giang in November

Vietnam welcomes 1.87 million foreign visitors in nine months

Vietnam welcomed about 1.87 million international arrivals in the first nine months of this year, 16.4 times higher than the same period last year but much lower than that in the same time in 2019 before COVID-19 broke out.

Close to 123,000 sea turtles released back to sea

The Con Dao National Park in the southern province of Ba Ria-Vung Tau released 122,867 baby turtles into the ocean between January and September.

Vietnamese, Danish friendship blossoms over the years

Many foreigners have enjoyed diverse landscapes, authentic local food, endless love, eternal friendship, and a favourable investment environment in Vietnam.

China imports less glutinous rice from Vietnam

The proportion of glutinous rice in total rice exports to China has fallen from 74 percent to 48 percent.

Vietnamese artists to appear in Norwegian play

Several talented local artists from the Vietnam Youth Theater have been invited to perform in 'Hedda Gabler', a classic play which is considered to be one of the outstanding works of Norwegian writer Henrik Ibsen.

Minor improvements seen in the transparency of provincial budgets

The average ranking of budget transparency for localities in 2021 was 69.53 points out of 100, a rise of just 0.44 points compared to 2020.

Pianist Nguyen Dang Quang returns home for concert of classical music

Piano player Nguyen Dang Quang, son of composer Quoc Trung and renowned artist Thanh Lam, is a fresh and promising presence at the event.

VN central bank acts to tighten the Vietnamese dong liquidity

A recent money market report of Saigon Securities Incorporation (SSI) showed the SBV last week net withdrew a total of VND34.6 trillion through the OMO channel.

Vietnam needs to improve human resources in digital age: World Bank

To reach the goal of becoming a high-income country by 2045, Vietnam needs to quickly improve the quality and quantity of its human resources.

Vietnam’s GDP rises by 13.67% in third quarter: statistics office

Vietnam’s gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 13.67% in the third quarter, according to the General Statistics Office (GSO).

Ministry of Culture demands strict supervision of beauty contests

Culture, Sports, and Tourism Minister Nguyen Van Hung has signed a directive strengthening state supervision of a variety of cultural and artistic activities, including beauty pageants and modelling contests.


Vietnam to become “new Asian tiger”: Italian journal

Vietnam to become the worlds chip production center

In the first eight months of this year, phones and electronic components have the most prominent export turnover in our country, reaching nearly 40 billion USD.