I arrived at Paris Gare du Nord on Friday August 28, approximately three hours after French Prime Minister Jean Castex’s new law mandating masks across the city came into place. It didn’t feel like an omen, per se, but it certainly impacted my expectations of what a year living la belle vie would look like.
I felt unprepared on a very practical level: the pandemic had thwarted my hope of getting to a dentist in Britain before I left; made it virtually impossible to set up a French bank account or figure out a foreign phone contract.
Alongside envying the way that Parisians manage to wear their mask with typical insouciance, acknowledging the inconvenience as little as one might a freckle on one’s face, I worried about the possibility of a second lockdown.
It was the virus that led me here, derailing my (admittedly vague) post-graduation plans to go to drama school to set me on the path of au pairing. But it was also the virus that had the potential to turn my year-out into a year-in, stuck in a flat with someone else’s family for company.
When it comes to seeing other young people who chose to take the same, somewhat unorthodox decision — an expat au pair community of fellow grads — the topic dominates the first 10 minutes of every meeting. We place bets on the likelihood of le confinement, 2.0.
Still, those meetings take place: in bars and brasseries, tables flooding the streets, saturated by patrons happy to brave the throng of cafe culture if the payoff is a social life.
The Parisians may don their masks with covetable panache, but I have a feeling their compliance has more to do with the threat of an on-the-spot fine worth more than €100 than it does support for the measure.
It’s easy to follow their lead and forget, momentarily, that the world’s gone mad. Paris feels like Paris. All the Brits’ continued talk of Blitz spirit feels quite twee, when I observe two strangers screaming with Gallic passion at one another in the boulangerie over the last fresh baguette. Though I can’t help but cringe at the total disregard for social distancing, not simply outside on the urgent, moving streets, but in shops, supermarkets, and on public transit.
I was perusing the fruit aisle yesterday when a very tall man stood behind me and wordlessly reached his arm above my head to return a banana to its shelf, directly in front of my surprised face.
However real the threat of a lockdown may be, though, I can’t regret my decision to move here. Maybe I’ll feel differently if President Macron does decide to lay down the law, but for now I’m happy to accept the perpetual sweaty upper lip of wearing a mask on the Metro if it means I get to live a life with purpose, somewhere new.
Graduate employment is bleak worldwide. Moving to Paris might not have been what I expected from this year, but after months of shrinking our lives to the confines of our homes, I feel lucky to be somewhere I can get lost.