The Covid Location Test

The arrival of Autumn last week was underlined by rain and punctuated by cold: summer is officially over in the City of Light.  It was, by all accounts, one of our quietest summers in recent history, as we were bereft of many of the non-European tourists that normally flock to our city.  But I had used that time to mull over an idea that had first occurred to me during lockdown: the Covid Location Test.

The test is simple.  Imagine that you were told that you could not leave your city (or if you’d like, country) for the next twelve months.  How would that make you feel?  Use those feelings to ponder the fundamental question: are you truly living the life you want to live?  If not, why not?

It certainly was a useful exercise for me.  While I was used to being location independent and sometimes having to work on an assignment for a client in the coffee shop du jour wherever I was in the world, I knew that remote work was a new and unwelcome experience for some of my friends, even the ones who had previously envied my ability to work from anywhere.  Hence, telling me that I could not leave Paris and would have to stay in my apartment didn’t qualify as punishment.  My home, after all, was designed as a refuge, a place for me to relax when I wasn’t working.  It fulfilled that purpose perfectly during March, April, and May of this year (even if it was also the place where I was working).

As for telling me that I couldn’t leave Paris, that wasn’t difficult to bear either.  I had perhaps traveled “too much” during my past seven years here, and some extended, unbroken time in Paris would be welcome.  Even if you told me I couldn’t leave for a year or more, it wouldn’t particularly trouble me: I was living in my dream city.

While I made a point to host a party at my house the very first week of deconfinement, I didn’t travel outside France until July.  I enjoyed my trips to the US, Croatia, Spain, and Andorra, despite the challenges of travel these days, but I took those trips not only opportunistically, because of work that presented itself, but because it was nice to travel around again and indicate by my actions that I refused to live my life in fear.

But something had changed.  In a world in which travel is a luxury, those who partake of it should feel quite privileged.  I very much felt fortunate to see places I had not previously been, and linger around some old haunts I knew well.  But for me the Covid Location Test was a reaffirmation of another privilege I feel fortunate to have in my life which I don’t take for granted: living where I want to live.

I encourage you to take the Covid Location Test yourself.  I suspect many of you have unwittingly taken it earlier in the year if you were locked down in any measure.  If you aren’t living the life you want to live now, why aren’t you?  What is holding you back?  We haven’t been promised that a similar situation won’t happen in the future and it’s folly to build a life assuming that history can’t repeat itself.  As I said in a previous article, at least as far as the EU is concerned, a residence permit = passport for freedom of movement, even in a pandemic, and that’s a powerful argument for those who felt trapped wherever they were.

Don’t be trapped.  Use the Covid Location Test to surface the feelings and sentiments you may have buried under the piles of routine and daily life.  Life the life you want to live now: you’re not promised tomorrow.

Photo by Khamkéo Vilaysing on Unsplash

passport pages

Traveling without my French Resident Card

So in an earlier post I shared that I had been pickpocketed late last year and hence no longer had my physical four year Carte de Sejour, which was perhaps the hardest-earned French document in my possession.  In that same article I noted that it really wasn’t such an important document in terms of daily life in France, and after this most recent theft, I had a number of trips in which an EU residence card had no relevance: visits to Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, the UK, Italy, then Bulgaria.  However, then a little thing called lockdown happened and when we were finally deconfined, the EU residence card took on a new meaning.  I knew in the back of my mind that I should have some kind of replacement document, but knowing that I was putting in for my ten year card quite soon led me to rely on my confidence on how the system worked and my inherent knowledge of and patience with French immigration.

First flight back

The end of July saw me at the Aer Lingus counter in Chicago, following a whirlwind three-week trip to the US which I took because of a convergence of very low airfares and the possibility of doing some work with a client as well as on one of my business projects.  I’d also get some family time.  I was tired, but the accomplished-a-lot-and-feeling-good kind of tired.  The agent at the counter asked for my passport and then she asked if I had residence in France.  I said that I did and handed her a photocopy of my residence card.  She didn’t really know her way around it so I pointed to the expiration date, which is in September of next year.  She nodded, but slowly.  A colleague hovered nearby.  “No way a photocopy is good enough,” he said in a voice probably intended to be low enough that I couldn’t hear, but I did.  “Legit, I think he needs to have the actual card.”  She seemed swayed by this and asked me to wait while she “checked on something” (read: go ask my boss).  She came out after a few minutes during which time I continued to smile and look composed.  She didn’t seem to look too dire when she came back, but wanted a bit more context.

“I understand where you’re coming from,” I said, “but here’s the police report noting it was stolen, and obviously since lockdown I haven’t gotten an appointment for a replacement.”  I smiled and simply gave the attitude that this was not a problem at all.  I live in France, I lost my card, leave this to the French.  For their part, an airline that incorrectly transports someone without entry rights has to bear the cost of repatriation, so she was not being unreasonable in pushing back a bit on me, but the fact that she didn’t really put up a fight was an indication of something I would continue to see: a willingness of those to be “understanding” to travelers in this time period.

Landing in Dublin turned out to be no big deal, as this was an inbound EU flight so I was just able to do a simple transfer within the airport.  I wasn’t forced out through customs as I had been on the way into the US.  Next stop: the French border.  I handed over my dark blue passport.  The border policeman’s eyebrow immediately flicked up as he saw the emblem of the eagle which grasped olive branches and arrows in its claws.  He assumed English and asked: “Why are you visiting France?”  “J’habite ici,” I smiled and answered in French.  “Ah,” he said, and asked for my residence card.  “Malheuresement…” I explained that I had been pickpocketed and handed him copies of the police report and a copy of the residence card.  He frowned.  He continued in French, asking why I had not gone to get a new card (he noted that the police report was dated November of last year).  I told him I had been traveling, and then afterwards there had been lockdown.  He pointed out that there had been deconfinement and I countered, smiling and polite, that it was hard to get an appointment (I knew from friends; I hadn’t actually tried myself).  He looked at some colleagues who had been obviously listening in.  They shrugged.  He flipped to an already crowded page and stamped.  “Merci; bon journee,” I smiled.  No documents?  No problem.

Not asked for?  The contact tracing form that Aer Lingus insisted we fill out before arrival.

The Croatian Question

I had planned to do some work in Salzburg with a client in August when an opportunity came up for us to do the work in Croatia instead.  Salzburg is still on my list to visit, but summer on the Adriatic is hard to beat.  Croatia was one of the countries that was “open” to Americans with a valid negative Covid test within 48 hours of arrival and proof of accommodation.  But, would they treat me as an American citizen or as an EU resident?  Surely, I couldn’t use the photocopy again?  Should I get a Covid test just in case they decide to treat me like an American?  Life continued on in Paris and a few days before the flight I decided to wander down to the Paris Plages to get one of the free tests they were giving out (the blood test used a pinprick and a few drops, with results in 15 minutes, the PCR test had a minimum 5 day waiting period for results – I opted for the quick result blood test).  The philosophy I have with French administration (always be prepared for everything they might ask for) guided me and while the negative test result printout I was handed didn’t look as “official” as I would like, I felt it would satisfy the Croats.

It was a fairly full flight to Zagreb (unlike domestic US flights, there seems to be zero insistence on the vacant middle seat) and I was one of the first off the plane and hence one of the first in line for passport checks.  When I handed over the American passport he asked where I had come from.  “Paris,” I answered.  “Transiting?”  “No, I live there.”  “Ah, where is your residence card?”  I handed him the photocopy of my residence card.  His face betrayed skepticism.  “It was stolen, here’s the police report.”  I handed it over to him.  I didn’t know if he could read French but his eye caught the filing date: “This was in November.”  “Yes, and we had lockdown so I didn’t get a replacement.”  He looked at everything again to satisfy himself, it seemed, then started flipping my passport pages to find a place to stamp me through.  He handed me a piece of paper with contact information for all the places I could get tested if I wanted.  No demand to self-isolate.

Not asked for?  Proof of accommodation, negative covid test, or contact tracing form.

Coming Home to France

Before March 2020, when I came home to France through passport control, the agents would scan my passport and lazily stamp it, usually while talking to their colleague.  They didn’t ask if I was a resident, because they didn’t care.  When I presented that passport, they assumed I was a tourist and just stamped me through.  I could have always bypassed this process by handing them a resident card along with my passport.  This would mean my passport would not be stamped.  But I never bothered with this.

When I handed my passport to the border agent his eyes flicked up at me as he perceived the dark blue US book.  He scanned it and after looking at his screen for a moment, handed it back to me.  I gave the usual, “Merci; bon journee,” and walked through.

The only way he would have handed my passport back to me without stamping it?  If the record he was looking at on my screen indicated that I had a legal carte de sejour, and hence was a resident of France.  No need to stamp the passport of someone returning home.  Had it always been this way and the border agents just assumed if I didn’t hand them my card I was just a tourist, and they didn’t look any further at my record?  Or is this a new level of digitization that’s been achieved by the French, something we’ve seen a lot of during Macron’s tenure?

Either way, I was home, and I it was my fastest way through yet.

Not asked for?  Carte de sejour.

I’m not saying that you should, as I have, push your luck.  Next week I’m going to stop putting it off and get a recipisse which will serve as a temporary ID until I get the appointment for my ten year card.  What I am saying is if you don’t feel like you’ve gotten everything just so during this period of travel, don’t let that deter you.  A ready smile, a good attitude, a fair number of documents, and a plausible explanation might just see you through.

The photo is one of my passport pages.  As you can see, the French don’t really care whether there’s “room” for a new stamp. 🙂

Mailbag: the non-existent “American ban,” work possibilities with the PL visa, and snake oil

In the last eight weeks I have received an avalanche of questions from those hoping to immigrate to France.  In the past when I received a lot of questions I would collect them into a post like this and call it the “mailbag.”  But since creating my Facebook group and videos on Visitor and Prof Lib status, I haven’t had to.  The last mailbag post was in 2016!  But there have been so many questions I’ve answered recently that I thought to collect just a few of them here to share.  The questioners have been anonymized and their questions have been corrected for spelling and grammar and/or redacted for privacy when necessary.

I keep hearing that due to COVID-19 Americans are not welcome in Europe right now.  Hence If I file for a long stay visitor visa (greater than 1 year), am I wasting my time?

It is fake news that Americans are not welcome in Europe.  Very rarely, if ever, is an entire nationality banned from some place, as that might also include expelling anyone of that nationality already in the country.  What the media isn’t saying, because it’s so intent on portraying an inept US response to Covid, is that US citizens, traveling for leisure, coming from the US, cannot currently enter France and some European countries.  Americans themselves are free to travel around Europe given that they have valid residence in a European country.  Those Americans who have never lived here but are confirmed on student status for this Autumn are also welcome to come to France in particular and Europe in general.

That said, your application process will depend on where you are applying from.  In some countries consulates and embassies are running again at normal capacity, with certain safeguards in place, and in other places those consulates and embassies remain closed or unable to assist applicants at the moment.  But you won’t be denied just for being an American.

I have a long term visitor visa but of course I’m stuck here in the US. So I will have to renew it before 4/15/21 and I haven’t even left yet! Can you help?

Here you can again see the power of fake news at work.  Since the questioner only had access to mainstream news, she was paralyzed.  I explained to her that the long term visitor visa, which for her became effective mid-April, gave her valid entry into France.  Even though she had never “lived” here, the visa gave her residence status, which was what she needed to travel.  After I assured her this would be fine she booked a ticket!  A late breaking addition as of just this afternoon – a negative covid-19 test 72 hours before travel will be required on the US side before departure.  This may change in the weeks and months ahead, but as of now it’s a new requirement.

How many times can you renew a long stay visitor visa? (Initial application would be for 1 year)

Indefinitely.  As I’ve said before, it’s one of the easiest visas to get, and even easier to renew and retain.  After five years and a language test, you can apply for a ten year card.

What kind of work contract can one be hired under while on a VLS/TS Profession Libérale? I’m attempting to apply for this status as a video editor/motion graphics designer and animator. I’m unsure if this can be considered as a liberal profession, and moreover, my understanding is that audiovisual production companies hire people under CDDU (CDD d’usage contracts), meaning that it’s salarié. My hope is that I can get hired for contracted work under a different work contract. What kind of work contracts exist for your visa?

The Profession Liberale visa is a work visa, meaning you are allowed to work, but it is not the same as a salarié visa – meaning the type of visa you get when sponsored by a company with which you have a CDI.  Should such a company wish to hire you, they would hire you as a contractor via your PL status.  As a contractor you don’t get any of the benefits of a regular employee, and rarely, if ever, sign “contracts” in the French work sense of the word (despite being a “contractor”).  You’re essentially acting as a consultant/freelancer.  That said, this could be an entree into a job, as perhaps the company will like you enough and recognize that you have a set of skills that’s difficult enough to find in the job market that they are willing to go through the time and expense of sponsoring your work visa, to make you an employee.  To be clear, PL status does not allow you to be employed as an employee.  Should you get a bona fide job offer you are going to have to change visa status to accept it, which also means shutting down your URSSAF account and figuring out what to do with your pension (transition it or keep it in place).

Stephen….I am still weighing the pros and cons of freelance visas from about five different countries.  Could you please clarify something regarding the Profession Liberale?  Does France limit the amount of time that a Profession Liberale holder can physically be outside of France and still maintain his or her immigration status and path to citizenship?  Must a physical address always be maintained during Profession Liberale status (as opposed to a mailbox at the UPS store)? 

Once you have a long term visa, be in Visitor or Prof Lib (or other classifications for that matter), there is not really any way that the French can track how long you are in the country.  For tax purposes you are essentially stating that you are in the country for 183 days+, but if you are there for less, the French wouldn’t know.  Now, I’m not encouraging you to do that, I’m just saying that for purposes of filing taxes and keeping your status, you have to assert that you are a fiscal resident of France.  There is no box on your French personal or business returns that asks you to indicate how many days you spent in France in the previous year.

To continue to renew your visa status as a long-term resident, regardless of your visa classification, you need to be a fiscal resident of France, and file returns here every single year.

You do need to maintain a physical address, as all correspondence (and trust me, there’s a lot) will be sent there until you get yourself set up virtually, and even then you’re going to receive a fair amount of physical correspondence from the agencies, like the Ministry of Finance, that still send paper notices for a number of things.  We don’t have a “UPS store” but there are various places that I know of that will allow you to maintain a physical address with them…for a fee.

Are you familiar with XXXXXXX XXXXXX, who also assists with visa applications and business formations, and if so, do you have an opinion about this person?   My wife and I were both getting a snake-oil-sales feeling about this person.

Yes, unfortunately I have heard many bad stories about this person, and XXXXXXX has a dreadful reputation in the Paris community.  This person is obsessed with Profession Liberale as the solution to every visa question, manages a Facebook group that is ruled like an absolute dictatorship (people get deleted for questioning/contradicting the narrative), and gives factually inaccurate advice by continuously asserting that a visitor visa does not allow you to have a remote job (it does, I’ve helped dozens of people to get visitor status who had a remote job as their proof of income), hence fueling the narrative that PL solves all.  Moreover, this person charges $4000 to help you obtain a PL visa, despite the fact that this person married into his/her immigration status, and hence never had to obtain one of these visas.  Your snake-oil feeling is confirmed.  I wouldn’t get within a country mile of this person, and it’s crazy to think that obtaining this visa should cost even 1/3 of what XXXXXXX charges.

the old normal in Paris

The Old Normal is Alive and Well in Paris

I’ve spent my entire life in countries with unrestricted freedom of movement.  Not only did those countries let me go where I wanted, whenever I wanted, as long as I wasn’t breaking laws, the countries were indifferent to my location on a given day at a given time.  Insofar as my movement encouraged commerce and the support of local businesses, which in turn paid taxes, these governments might actually encourage me to get out and about.

I think it was because I’ve always taken freedom of movement for granted that I felt that energetic frisson in my bones and brain this last weekend, as our local parks opened and restaurants prepared to open their outdoor terraces here in Paris.  While there had been an energy and buzz in the air since the first days of deconfinement, this last weekend was different.  Normal service wasn’t quite restored, but it felt quite normal.  The streets and parks were packed (Buttes Chaumont, a very large park near my home, was as busy as I’ve ever seen it, and that was with its restaurants and bars closed).  The majority of the population across 6 arrondissements that I visited one day (specifically the 19th, 11th, 5th, 4th, 3rd, and 2nd) were unmasked and not social distancing.  Witnessing this has been like watching a light turn on in a dark room: one moment there was coronavirus, the next moment it was summer.

It’s important to note that it is only in and around Paris, and only for the next few weeks that we will continue to see these restrictions, which include: schools reopening with capped class sizes so some students will continue to attend remotely; swimming pools, campsites, and theaters closed; gatherings in public places limited to groups of ten (enforced by roving police).  The rest of France, host to fewer cases and a lower infection rate, are “back to normal.”

The much-mooted “second wave” which the media seemed to almost hope for so they could continue to be one of the few “essential” workers hasn’t materialized, and the president of the Scientific Council advising the French government has said that even in a worst-case scenario a second lockdown would be unacceptable for a number of reasons.  Given that sunshine and fresh air are extremely effective (and free) deterrents against viruses of all kinds, not just the recent celebrity COVID-19, one wonders why we didn’t deconfine sooner.  We were, in part, witness to the worst tendency of science throughout the ages: stubborn adherence to old beliefs and measures taken when we had very little data and information, combined with a refusal to modify hypotheses when in receipt of new information.  This tendency continues on into the private lives of some of my friends and acquaintances who have been scared into a private “extended edition” confinement.  I try to respect the turbulent emotions some of them have felt in the past months, so I avoid asking them: “If masks work, why do we social distance?  If social distancing works, why do we wear masks?  If both work, why did we lock down?”

Some of the fearful ones do venture out, with all the protection you can imagine: gloves, masks, gel, sometimes even a visor as well. Some of the younger set, determined to be as fashionable as they are “safe,” have bought designer cotton masks–not necessarily helpful against viruses, but they certainly go well with their summer outfits.  This is an unsurprising historical (and humorous) echo for anyone who has visited the Museum of the Liberation of Paris, which has stills of models sporting gas masks as accessories for that season’s release of new fashions.

I’ve even been witness to a few exchanges in which the French have lectured each other, imitating the health and safety briefings of the weeks gone by.  On the first day of deconfinement I was on a bus, masked.  A young man entered the bus without one.  About half a minute later, two middle-aged adults gave muffled speech to complement their camouflaged disapproving looks.  “You need to wear a mask, sir,” she gently chided in French.  Her interlocutor, probably in his late 20s, gave her the typical gallic shrug.  “It’s not just for my protection, but yours too…” she droned on, and he listened politely, but in the vein of, “I’ve heard all the same stuff you have, lady, and I’ve decided to act otherwise.”

That’s the reality of a free country: you are continuously surrounded by others who differ from you in many ways.  In those first few days there was a tension of the “good” mask-wearers who wore them even though they weren’t required outside of public transportation or in certain stores in contrast to the “bad” mask-ignorers who only wore them when required to.  But as day passed on to day, and masks were optional in more and more shops and businesses, the French resumed their normal cultural attitudes, formed over centuries of living in this country.

No longer being legally required to stay home or forced to justify leaving them, the French interpret “optional” as “don’t bother.”  Mask wearing may have been hip two weeks ago, but as summer continues to come on, social pressure will work the other way, and it will take a deeply rooted moral conviction to remain masked, probably rooted in a Noah complex, that a flood is coming and we mask-ignorers are to be pitied for our ignorance.  I stopped predicting early on in this crisis, but I am willing to predict that we will have a summer this year, as long as we don’t conspire to ruin it for ourselves.

We’ll be harvesting lessons from the bad dream that was most of the last ten weeks for years, but it’s not too soon to draw a few now:

  • Given sufficient economic incentives, the French will obey the law.  Even the Yellow Vests, undeterred by Christmas, stayed home during the entire confinement.
  • Temporary natural crises do not make for permanent cultural changes.  Despite the claims of the “new normal” and “it will be a long road back” all appearances indicate that the current normal looks remarkably like the old normal.  In a few weeks (which seems rather short to those who were shut in for months) theaters will reopen and indoor service at restaurants will augment the outdoor service already happening.  Indeed, the biggest priority for many French, apart from standing in long lines to get back into IKEA, will be planning summer vacations, not just here in France, but in the greater EU.
  • Scientific theories ultimately come up against economic realities.  Now-leaked documents from both the German and Danish governments indicate that these authorities considered the reaction to the coronavirus to be overblown even as they implemented policies that directly contradicted these assessments.  France reopened not just because the number of sick were below a certain level, but because the money already committed to bailouts of the auto, tourism, and restaurant industries were mounting to unbelievable levels, and all those bailouts are premised on future tax dollars, which can only be generated by functional, not locked-down, economies.
  • Too many of us were willingly puppeted by the media.  As the slogans morphed from “stay home save lives” to “black lives matter” in the US and abroad, what was commonly prompted one week (avoid crowds, wear masks, social distance) immediately and seamlessly was opposed the following week (march in protest, gather in force, do what you want).  If such mass gatherings now don’t deliver a second wave, we may have the protestors to thank for volunteering to test a hypothesis: has COVID-19 disappeared or is at least in abeyance?

In the meantime, many of us are glad, after months of confinement, to get back to an important notion that should be taken for granted in a free society: the ability to make our own informed choices about what we do and how we conduct our lives.  No man is an island, and everything we do, even in the privacy of our homes, has an effect on our society as a whole, no matter how much those who deny the existence of the soul would tell us.  The states that slavishly imitated China’s extreme lockdown procedures would have us believe that they are so very different from the communist Chinese, but the past three months have shown us that the same lie that animates the Chinese government has spread and infected the West as well: the State knows best.  If those states were properly oriented toward the Permanent Things and eternity, perhaps we might believe them, but since they are manifestly not, we may not have to wait too long before they subject us to such a lockdown again…for our own good, of course.

Photo taken at Cafe de la Poste, in the Marais, where I wrote this piece and broke my fast of sitting on a Paris terrasse.

This piece originally appeared on Front Porch Republic.

quarantine in Paris

Cracks in the Quarantine

Two weekends ago the weather was particularly lovely and while I was out for a Sunday stroll in my neighborhood what I had already been sensing over the previous weeks became crystal clear: many Parisians were not abiding by the draconian rules of quarantine that had been laid down in March, which almost seems like another lifetime ago now.  The French have received some favorable press abroad and even from the French Prime Minister for being generally “well behaved” during the lockdown, but there’s a good reason for that: they’ve been paid off.

Not Disciplined Normally

The French are not scrupulous rule-followers.  At all.  I know, I’ve lived here with them for years now.  If you want rule followers all you need to do is cross the border into Germany where people will wait on an empty street in the pouring rain rather than cross it without a proper signal.  Three of the four landlords I’ve had in my time in France have either wanted to be paid in cash or wanted me to conceal that I was paying rent (and hence avoid the taxes) by telling me not to put anything in the memo section of the monthly bank transfer.  I know at least half a dozen people who have used someone else’s payslip in order to qualify for the apartment that they live in now.  Then there’s the bragging about methods of tax evasion that can happen at a casual apero during the week or when you are on vacation in Provence.  Did the French suddenly become rule-followers and acolytes of the government because of a viral scare, just weeks after a transportation strike that ruined Christmas and New Year’s plans for the entire country?  Non.

What the French did get, due to the systems and mechanisms in place, is money, and lots of it.  In almost every field the French were paid off so that they were not losing money at the rate that businesses in many other countries have been.  Those who needed additional aid had ways to apply for it, right down to small business owners like myself, as I wrote about earlier this week.  When you’re being paid to stay home, you can still get fresh bread, tobacco, alcohol, lottery tickets, and food, all while your high speed internet is working, why fight?

Like the Occupation

It hasn’t even been 100 years since the Occupation of France during World War II, and while President Macron has famously evoked the term “war” to refer to what is going on in France and throughout the world, the reality is that the last war wasn’t really that rough on the capital and it was famously preserved by the commanding Nazi general because he was persuaded that the war was lost and Hitler had lost his mind (to learn more check out Is Paris Burning? and the film of the same name).

So too, life hasn’t really been that bad under the virtual house arrest we have been under for the last eight weeks.  Yes, we have to print out a humorous attestation in which we give permission to ourselves to be out for whatever reason, but we have had access to food, shelter, and information.  Our borders are closed and you must have permission to travel even inside the country.  Such restrictions over such a relatively short period as eight weeks is not the stuff of which revolutions are made (despite the fact that there have been a dozen forms of government in France since 1789).

More importantly, just like during the Occupation, the French have figured out the ways around the laws.  After the stings of fines in early weeks, Parisians have figured out when and where the police are patrolling and how to make sure they have a plausible story if caught.  More than a million fines have been handed out during the last eight weeks so you can reasonably guess that at least double that number were not caught by the police, which means there are literally millions of people in France not obeying the law (if you want to read some of the more creative excuses given to the police, The Local collected them in this article), so please, don’t tell me about how much the French are “respecting the quarantine.”

Different in America

While many are eager to exploit the current explosive and divisive politics of America to point out how “wrong” the US is getting public policy, I can only hope it has been an instructive civics lesson for those who are less familiar with how the United States has been governed since 1789 (when it tried out its third form of government, which is the one that still prevails).  While many thought the “states’ rights” question was answered in 1865, many more have started to see that this issue has always been the central question of how the US is governed (and indeed, is the intellectual framework of its founding).  It is the question that will not go away.  So you have coastal states that have used strict lockdown measures, other states that have milder forms of it, and some states that have not locked down at all, along with lawsuits against governors, with more to come under the aegis of the Department of Justice.  It turns out that state Governors, not the US President, has been the focus of the attention of many of the restless in the United States.

While the $1200 checks that went out eased some of the pain for some people, and some federal business loans and grants backed by the SBA helped some business owners, the United States is a large and sprawling country with hundreds of millions of inhabitants.  The health care system is famously broken in many ways and even with plenty of advance notice could not have done anything like what Germany has been doing or France is planning in terms of mass testing.  Yet, even as heralded as France’s health care system is, there has been no system of testing, and as such the lockdown was simply a time-buying measure.  Things are different in America for many reasons, not just because of one man, no matter how much the media would like us to believe otherwise.

You Probably Had It

Several of my friends who, like me, were traveling in December and January, suspect that we might have had the virus already, but are asymptomatic.  We have 27 million visitors to Paris each year, and at least one third of them are Chinese.  Is it likely that one of those millions brought the disease to France as early as December, that it has spread through the population, and that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, already have the disease and are asymptomatic?  Yes, quite.  But we won’t know until we test, and as we prepare to open up next week, I suspect that this upcoming weekend will have scenes like we saw just two weeks ago:

This video (featuring a Dalida song – Laissez-moi danser – released the year I was born), viewed almost 8 million times now, was of an impromptu dance party in Montmartre which the police came to break up but gave fines to absolutely no one.  It’s technically not illegal to dance on the street to music coming from someone’s apartment, and many people were observing some kind of social distancing.  Six weeks in, the police have learned which battles to fight and which to pretend they don’t see.

A story I tell along these lines was from Fete de la Musique in 2014 or 2015 when I was lounging in the lazy afternoon sun in Place des Vosges with some friends and one of the park guardians came up to let me know that alcohol could not be consumed inside this park.  But he said it in such a friendly way that I suspected that if I reached for a paper bag and put the bottle inside, he would consider his duty done.  I did precisely that and he smiled and said, “Merci” and walked off.

As I stroll around on Sundays there are groups of friends standing and talking in the sunshine, clearly ignoring the rule that they are not supposed to meet friends (or are we to believe that they all coincidentally came to the same spot in the sunshine?).  Others are a bit more covert: I saw three young men gathered around a car, all with takeaway food and while one sat in the passenger seat the other two stood next to him outside of the car, ostensibly so that if the police did come, they could say they were just eating some takeaway that had gotten and were getting ready to drive off.

As far as masks go, it’s a pretty even split outside, though inside the metro I’ve observed 75% of the people are masked or gloved, and as of Monday it’s going to be required if you want to use public transportation, though how so-called “social distancing” will be enforced at rush hour is less clear.  I’ll have to wear one for my (already scheduled) haircut this Tuesday.  My barber is talented enough to work around the ear straps (though I suspect they will be removed at a certain point during the haircut) and she’ll have plenty of practice for all the willing Samsons that will be lining up starting first thing this Monday.

The French have mostly kept their heads down for the last eight weeks, but who knows what will happen on Monday, when for the first time we will be permitted to be outside of our homes without our “papers”?  I’ve stopped predicting anything in these times, but I do know that without our restaurants and cafes, which are a core part of life here in France and not slated to be opened until June at the earliest, this will be the oddest May that has occurred in France in centuries.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels