What's Really Going On In Paris?
We missed the first two weekends of protests in Paris.
The weekend they started, Kathleen and I were in Ireland visiting friends. The next weekend we were in the States for Thanksgiving.
The third protest Saturday, we were here in the city, but, despite our apartment being just a few blocks from the National Assembly and Concorde, two focal points of the demonstrations, we didn’t hear much.
This past Saturday marked the fourth in a row that the Yellow Vests have come out en masse. The numbers of demonstrators were comparable to those of the previous week, which had set historic records. Fortunately, though, fewer people were injured and there was far less property damage and theft.
The French authorities attributed this to the more proactive strategy they employed this past weekend. More people were arrested than on the previous three Saturdays combined, and arrests were made out of the gate, starting early Saturday morning.
Most of central Paris was shut for the day. I was holed up in our apartment trying to finish our tax return (deadline is this Friday), but Kathleen ventured out. She returned home to report that, outside the few areas where the protestors were active, the city was quieter than she’s ever known it.
For sure, the ongoing protests are keeping tourists away. As France’s Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire pointed out over the weekend, the timing couldn’t be worse for the French economy. Losing so much business during what should be the busy Christmas season is, as Le Maire put it, a “catastrophe” for French business owners.
Kathleen and I are here through the New Year, and, other than the closing of stores this past Saturday, we don’t expect the protests to change our holiday plans.
Saftey Home And Abroad
About 12 years ago, when we were living in Paris full-time, the city saw protests that the international news found worthy of coverage. The media showed video clips of burning cars and protesters throwing rocks at the police. The French like to burn cars.
Kathleen and I returned to France from a scouting trip in Croatia, and I left the next day for a conference in the States. The day the conference started, an attendee scolded me for leaving my wife and family alone in Paris while the city was under siege.
I’d been speaking with Kathleen every day since I’d left Paris. She hadn’t mentioned the protests to me… and I hadn’t thought to ask. Finally, the morning of the final day of the conference, I remembered.
Kathleen hadn’t known about the protests either… until she saw the coverage on CNN.
The current protests in Paris are closer to our neighborhood than the ones 12 years ago and bigger. They’re also more politically charged. And, with stores, restaurants, museums, and attractions shut across the city last Saturday, it was obvious something was going on.
However, other than on the Champs-Élysées where the protesters have been confronting the police directly, the risk of trouble for bystanders or people going about their day-to-day business is negligible. Kathleen walked for hours across Paris on Saturday and reported never feeling in danger or even uncomfortable. Beyond the hooligans throwing cobblestones at police in the area of the Arc de Triomphe, the Yellow Vest protestors Kathleen encountered were calm and peaceful, simply trying to make their point.
In my 25 years living and working overseas, I’ve been in places that were actually dangerous for brief moments while I was passing through.
My first trip to Europe, I was 15 years old. I went to eat in a Burger King in Madrid one Saturday afternoon. At the end of the day, back at the hotel, some in the group I was traveling with were talking about a Basque separatist bombing that day. Digging into the details, I found out that the bomb had gone off in the Burger King where I’d had lunch… about an hour after I’d been there.
Two years ago our son Jackson traveled to Bogotá to sit for his French Baccalaureate exams. These are the final leaving tests every French student must take to graduate. The senior class at the French school in Panama City where Jackson attended wasn’t big enough to warrant holding the exams in Panama, so Jackson and the rest of his class, along with students from other similarly small senior classes from French schools across the region, met in Bogotá to take the tests there.
While these students happened to be in town, someone blew up the ladies’ room in a mall down the street from their hotel.
Jackson and his friends had been in the mall earlier that day. In fact, a French girl interning at the school where the tests were being administered died in the explosion. Horrible.
With protests here and bombings there all across the globe… and the odd American who is killed overseas… many Americans ask if Country A, B, or C could possibly be safe.
Reading the U.S. news this morning, I learned that a man was arrested for pushing someone in front of a truck in Los Angeles, two people were shot after a party at an Atlanta hotel, and three people were shot in a Miami suburb. That’s just a quick look at the headlines that bubble to the top on my internet feed each day.
Based on these events… and the many like them that play out every day within U.S. borders… would you say the United States is unsafe?
Feeling safe comes from a sense of familiarity. Americans, understandably, feel safer in their own town, their own state, and their own country. Bad things can happen… and do happen every day… but, when they happen in a place we’re used to, we feel that we understand them better, I guess.
Kathleen and I are familiar with Paris. We’re not French, of course, but we feel at home here and safe even in the midst of these current protests.
And, based on decades of experience moving around the world, we’ve learned not to let things like protests, riots, shootings, or bombings keep us home. We don’t seek out trouble, certainly, but we don’t let it limit us either.