Navigating French Covid Life

In line at the Louvre, once health credentials have been verified. You can only enter the museum (and get in the line) if you’ve shown you’ve been vaccinated or tested negative for Covid.

A couple of weeks ago, I was down in Arcachon, on the Atlantic coast south of Bordeaux, to visit a friend who’s vacationing there. We hadn’t seen each other since last February (2020, that is), but it was as if we had been together only days before, so easily did we fall into familiar conversation.

I can’t say it’s been quite as easy reconnecting with the country as a whole, though.

I’ve been back here for a month, arriving just a few weeks after the French government allowed vaccinated Americans to enter the country. I’m delighted to be once again immersed in the culture, though it feels a bit different, like running into a friend who’s gone through something that makes him a bit jumpy.

It’s the little things. Even the simple act of standing at a counter to get a quick café at the local bar-tabac is now forbidden. You have to be seated to order. This isn’t a big deal, but it makes life here (as elsewhere) less spontaneous than it had been. Still, you deal with it.

Over the past couple of weeks as a new, more contagious and potentially deadly Covid variant propagates thanks to the stubborn unvaccinated, the French have imposed stricter measures for controlling viral transmission. That means you have to show your “passe sanitaire,” or health pass, which appears on the French app “Tous Anti-Covid,” which has a QR code that displays your vaccination status. Most of us Americans don’t have that particular app, which in any event doesn’t yet work with American QR codes that some people received if they were vaccinated at pharmacies. The Centers for Disease Control card that most of us got when we were vaccinated at vaccination centers doesn’t have a QR code. But at least under the new regulations, the CDC vaccination card is valid proof, since it indicates the date of your second dose (this is the important information). This allows you to get into a museum, a movie theater and, soon, a restaurant (even the terraces outside the restaurant). I’m glad I had my card laminated; it’s getting much more use than I had thought.

Hand-sanitizing stations are everywhere, such as bus stops, in metro stations, at the entrances to department stores and supermarkets.

In some parts of France, such as Perpignan and the surrounding area, people have to wear masks on the street, just as in the bad old days at the height of the pandemic. Here in Paris, mask-wearing is mandatory in stores, museums, movie theaters and on public transportation. As in New York and other cities in the U.S., many restaurants here have erected makeshift outdoor terraces, some of the complementing their existing terraces, to make up for lack of space inside, and to keep up the illusion of social distancing (though, as always, social distancing doesn’t deter the ever-present cigarette smoke of nearly every other patron from infesting every outdoor table). Still, you deal with it.

Paris is known for its restaurant terraces, but Covid conditions have led many restaurateurs to add to existing ones or create their own, such as this one on the Rue Cardinet in the 17th arrondissement.

As in the U.S., there is a very vocal and large minority of anti-vaccination types, who have taken to the streets not only to criticize increasingly more stringent measures to combat the spread of the virus, but the growing likelihood that vaccination will become mandatory for more and more people. The protestors (last weekend about 150,000 people marched throughout France, not a huge number, but not insignificant) don’t seem to realize that if it weren’t for so many people already having been vaccinated, they wouldn’t have been able to gather on the streets to protest their lack of liberty. They’d have still been confined to their homes, wondering when it all would end.

But it’s hard to combat feelings with logic. For some reason, the French are general vaccine skeptics, which is more a matter of principle than practice. It’s the philosophical bent where the French prefer conceptual approaches to the actual thing. The idea of a vaccine is good. This is, after all, the country of Louis Pasteur. But the actual vaccine – well that’s something to get all huffy about.

But I’m vaccinated, and I’m happy to be here, even if I have to “porter un masque” when I want to go the Louvre.

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