Short answer: Non.
This is not the monthly newsletter I had envisioned, but current events in my homeland (and messages in my inbox) prompted me to write this instead.
This feels strangely familiar. (Some) violence occurs. French then international media relay the news en boucle (endlessly) and scare the living daylights out of travelers, who are too far away to tell what’s true or not. Quel dommage.
Remember mass hysteria after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January 2015? I do. Remember mass hysteria after the November 2015 terror attacks in Paris? I do. Remember mass hysteria after the July 14, 2016 terror attack in Nice? I do.
Those were gruesome, tragic events and I am not trying to make light of them.
Fear is a force to be reckoned with. I could point out that in other parts of the world, many have reasons to be afraid when they step outside and head to their local supermarket. They would reply they still go about their daily lives.
As do the French right now, in Paris and beyond.
One thing at least is true: There’s social unrest in France this spring, and there’s sure been a lot of trash accumulating along Parisian sidewalks (though as of March 29, the situation might improve.) Note that most demonstrations like the ones in my city, Tours, have been running without incidents.
This being said, some trash cans (and cars) have been set on fire. Property has been vandalized. Nothing new in la Belle France, I am sorry to say.
Paris (France!) les amis, is not the La-La-Land Hollywood and many foreigners and francophiles have built it to be. It’s not all wine, cheese (best enjoyed “en terrasse”) châteaux and affordable healthcare.
Time to take off those rose-tinted glasses. Edith Piaf (yes, “the Little Sparrow”) who grew up in the streets and became a prostitute early on to survive, might have warned you when she sang “la Vie en Rose” but she forgot because she was likely in love when she recorded the song. Edith loved being in love.
Edith could have told you the French are proud to defend what they see as their social or political rights. They’ve often had to march, build barricades, go on strike or throw cobble stones to earn (or protect) those rights. And they will once again, to oppose a reform of the pension system that may be necessary but was also poorly introduced and forced on them, the way they see it.
“C’est la vie en France,” just as much as a glass of wine enjoyed “en terrasse.”
Will your vacation be impacted?
Visitors may mostly feel the impact of social unrest on public transportation (international flights, train travel, the Parisian Metro, gas stations.) There are ways to plan around that, apps and websites to stay in the loop.
I believe in doing my homework about locales where I travel. I recommend you do the same. This site tells you about scheduled strikes before they happen for all French regions and all activity sectors. This site is where you look up your train status (the French SNCF should let you know in advance if your train is cancelled.) This site tells you what gas stations still have fuel (app version, Essence&Co.) This site (app available) is where you get updates about the Parisian Metro and your local transportation network.
Research, preparation, information in real time are the keys to a successful and fulfilling trip anywhere.
As are common sense and flexibility. A famous museum or landmark shuts down on national strike day? It’s disappointing, but to be expected. Explore your neighborhood instead. Have a back-up plan.
I have no doubt North American travelers I’ll be taking around Paris and la Belle France this season will have questions for me about current events. I love questions, a much better alternative to soundbites and gross generalizations found online these days.
I’ll be ready to answer those and will try and provide some perspective as we discover new locations together, and my guests enjoy their vacation safely and French life in situ.
What I really meant to write
March has been a busy yet exciting month in my corner of l’Hexagone (France): After months of “grisaille” (grey skies) spring has finally sprung. I welcomed my first clients in the Loire Valley last week and showed them a good time.
A few days ago, I launched the France with Véro website with the help of talented designer Janet Hoover.
You can now find my services, virtual tours replays, the France with Vero blog, social media links in one place. Most of all, I hope Janet and I have created a space where you can get your “France fix” whenever you need it.
Come in and make yourself at home!
In just a few weeks, I will be leading my first Rick Steves tour of the season, Paris and the Heart of France. If you are signed up, see you in April.
Thank you for reading this far.
Oh, and one last thing: I wouldn’t cancel that trip. Authentic French adventures await (not to mention cheese, wine, châteaux… and les terrasses!)
Bienvenue en France.
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