Paris hasn’t had tourists in over a year. No Big Red Buses, no families on Segways plowing down the sidewalk, no please-sign-my-petition scams. We’ve had the monuments and parks and bridges all to ourselves, except for a brief period last summer when some other Europeans dropped in.
And do you know why we had so much fun sauntering around the Tuileries, cycling in our new designated bike lanes, sprawled on the riverbanks with a picnic? Because that’s all there frickin’ was to do.
Everything indoors was closed for what seems like forever. Only the outdoors has been available, and even parts of that were off-limits.
At the time of this writing, we have a 7 p.m. curfew and a 10-km travel limit. I haven’t been in a restaurant since before Halloween. Only essential shops are open. Churches, gyms, movies, stores, museums – all shuttered. Chocolate shops, wine caves and hair salons open. Go figure. We were hopeful in January, then we got hit with the third wave and don’t even get me started on the slow vaccine rollout. We’ve got cabin fever like you wouldn’t believe.
And it shows. Plenty of cheating went on – forbidden birthday parties or pulling our masks down to our chin or paying our coiffeur to secretly come to our apartment for a cut and color. Some of us checked “Caring for a Sick Loved One” on the attestation when we were just going to see our boyfriend across town. Or borrowed a neighbor’s dog to go for a walk after curfew. Lounged on the banks of the Seine with less-than-strict social distancing just to feel human.
You know what all that rule-bending and rule-breaking does to a person, though? It makes you shifty. It makes you look over your shoulder. It makes you say, “look out, there’s the cops.” It makes you defensive, even when you’re not doing anything wrong. It makes you avoid security guards and shop clerks and old ladies who correct your mask positioning sans problème.
Paris is a crowded city, and we’ve been crammed in here giving each other the stink-eye for a year. We’re tense.
Muggings are up. House robberies are down with everyone stuck at home minding the fort. Everyone is in a rush driving down one-lane streets that the City of Paris has sneakily created since most parisiens were stuck at home. It’s a jungle out there.
Come on over!
Now, don’t get me wrong – we’ll welcome tourists back to Paris with metaphorically open arms. Our economy is in the tank and we’re in danger of losing some of our most charming restaurants, cultural attractions, and shops.
It will be weird, though. President Macron says we can open up gradually starting mid-May, which means that just as we’re crawling out of our burrows, blinking in the summer sunlight, y’all are going to come stampeding through here like it’s Saturday morning at Costco.
Try to be a good post-Covid tourist
To facilitate everybody’s transition, let me, as your boots-on-the-ground American in Paris, give you a few tips. Parisians are a little touchy in the best of times, and if you want to have a good post-Covid vacation here, you’ll need to adjust your expectations. And your comportement.
First, be safe. Parisians got used to masks and hand gel and distancing, so fall in line. Yes, some connards flaunted those rules, but they aren’t the majority. Who knows what the rules will be by the time you get here, but we all have a forehead tan from the year-long city-wide mask mandate. If a sign says masques obligatoires, #wearyourmask
Be polite. Parisians expect you to say bonjour first thing, starting every conversation and entering every small establishment. During this year without tourists, I’m pretty sure we forgot that other countries just leap into their conversations without a proper intro, so say it wholeheartedly to servers, clerks, neighbors, everybody. Without it, you’ll get a big fat zero of attention. Especially now, when we haven’t seen foreigners in a year.
Be elegant. You know why Parisians give you the judgy face? Because you’re galumphing around town like an elephant, scuffing your feet and swinging your arms and blowing your nose out loud. You gotta be sophistiqué to fit in around here. So, use your indoor voice everywhere, don’t laugh like a hyena, and make your body small so you don’t manspread or elbow somebody. Keep your entire person within the confines of your tiny wicker cafe chair. Channel your inner Cary Grant.
Be street-wise. You may be having the time of your life, but we’re all just trying to get to school and work and the marché. Therefore, don’t cause any traffic jams. Avoid blocking the sidewalk. Pull over to take photos. Keep your strollers and roller bags and toddlers in the slow lane. I’m walking here.
Make it rain. We’re hurting, economically, so please spend that money. Buy some souvenirs. Update your style. Treat yourself. Visit the flea market and ship something home. Frequent little cafés and tiny shops, neighborhood bakeries and non-chain shops. They’re the ones that make Paris what it is, and you can help us keep them afloat.
We’ve all lost some social skills this year, with all that Zooming and distancing and mortal dread. But Paris is here, waiting for you, in this new normal. Let’s figure it out together.