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Scared of coming to Paris this Spring? Some perspective…

Pont des Arts

France has had a tough spring for tourism. The terror attacks in Brussels spooked people into cancelling their visit, strikes and protest marches in response to the new employment law reforms have slowed train service and blocked gas stations, and record-breaking rainfall has caused flooding and the delay of the French Open. From afar, Paris must look like a total mess.

There are some serious problems that I don’t mean to minimize, but for visitors to Paris there’s no reason to be unduly alarmed. In fact, within Paris you wouldn’t even know anything is out of the ordinary if you didn’t watch the news. Okay, the rain is hard to miss this week, but public transportation in the city is working normally, and the protest marches are contained within specific designated areas (usually far from anywhere tourists would go anyway).

group at cafe

Wednesday the 25th May, with the Travel Writing Workshop participants at the Marché d’Aligre. 

In fact, I’ve had a half-dozen tours and a week-long travel-writer’s workshop over the past two weeks, and none of my clients was inconvenienced by the events (again, except for the rain if they only packed summer clothes). The protest marches get the most press because they look scary and exciting with riot cops throwing tear gas and masked protesters throwing Molotov cocktails. But most Parisians just roll their eyes and go back to smoking on a café terrace; they’ve seen this before, and it always blows over.

Capturing the absurdity of the situation perfectly, freeze this news video below of the protests at 1:46 and you’ll see a colorfully-dressed man on the right of the screen who’s obviously having a good time posing for the cameras (although I now realize he was just trying to warn us all of the coming floods).

You can watch a longer video here showing that same protest march, in the 6th arrondissement, where for over an hour the riot police and the workers’ union protesters (the ones with red flags and armbands) are throwing tear gas canisters, fireworks and flares back and forth. For you Americans out there, keep in mind that despite the scary-looking mob, ONLY the police have guns. No one else has guns. That’s probably why you’ll also notice in every shot there are spectators watching from the sidelines, more excited to record the “action” on their smartphones than worried about actually getting hurt. At 4:08 you see tourists inside La Rotonde taking photos from the windows (until the waiters wisely move them away). 

Usually protests marches are a noisy but harmless way for the French to let off some steam. But the police, who make all public protest marches possible by blocking traffic and maintaining order, have been getting so annoyed at the “casseurs” (basically the trouble-makers who show up to any protest march just to pick fights and break stuff, as well as the growing violence of the union protesters) that they held their own protest the next day. In this Associated Press video below note how the cop whose car has been attacked and set on fire with two officers inside doesn’t even bother to un-holster his gun in the face of the idiot who’s still swinging a metal rod at him (five protesters have been identified and arrested since then).

To sum it up, as I wrote in Newsletter #68 during the “riots” of 2006, “Don’t worry about canceling your trip to Paris until you see me posting photos of my airlift to safety from the roof of the American Embassy.” 

See the most up-to-date Paris safety information here

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  • Just returned from Versailles and it was packed! Most people come on the tour buses anyway so they are not affected by the strike. And it is only the V Rive Gauche station that's closed and that's just for two days. The big train station is going strong and is only another 10 minutes from the Chateau.

  • M Stubes is obviously lives in the suburbs, which totally sucks because they are indeed having closures on some lines (but mostly just reduced number of trains). I just checked the RATP (Paris metro) website again, and despite disturbances to railway lines outside Paris, the metro is running normally. But yes, the station at Versailles is closed on the RER, so you'll have to taxi or Uber out there (bonus: probably won't be any lines).

  • France is as safe as any country can be. Here in peaceful Canada our Parliament building was breached by a crazed local jihadist carrying loaded firearms. He was killed by the sargeant-at-arms within the building and a soldier was killed at the War Memorial. The whole of Canada, France or Belgium or even the US after 9/11 is not under constant attack. You have a much greater chance of being killed in a car accident in your home town than being killed or hurt by a terrorist. I go to France twice per year and have been for 50 years. I'm not stopping now or ever for that matter. Michael Dorman Toronto

  • Most of above comments were written before strike began. Sit in your cafe and look smug but trains and metros are NOT RUNNING FOR THE NEXT TWO, THREE, FOUR DAYS. Get out of your smug chair and go somewhere! Try Versailles! Who runs this country? CGT? or government? Save all your smug flames for your waiter; you don't have anywhere to go.

  • My wife and I have been in Paris for the last 14 years during all types of strikes and slow downs and have always managed to have a terrific time. All it takes is a little flexibility and a good umbrella to enjoy the city. We'll be there on June 14th to enjoy good food and more adventures in one of the best cities for us older travelers.

  • I will be coming to Paris in July and I have no hesitation because any attack would be so random the chances of getting caught in it would be like being struck by lightning. I also generally refuse to be intimidated by terrorists (unless of course there's one standing beside me!) so I am coming and I even paid in advance for the hotel. I must however take polite exception to the statement in the article that "only the police have guns." As far as I can tell, the terrorists at the Bataclan nightclub also had guns. So much for tough French gun laws.

  • Traveling to and from your travel writers workshop last week was smooth. No stalls on the metro either. We go to Amsterdam for a few days via the fast train today so will see how that goes. The workshop was amazing by the way people. If you have always wanted to sharpen your writing skills this is a one of a kind experience. I can't wait for level 2.

  • We have been in Paris since May 5th and have not seen anything to make us concerned about being here. We have enjoyed the City Of Lights immensely living in an apartment and soaking in all the culture, the daily life of going for croissants and baguettes, and even traveled to Bayeux and Giverny while here. The Rail Strike caused us to cancel our day at Versailles but we are going back on Thursday! We have so enjoyed living here and being a part of this vibrant city. The Metro system is bar none the best we have ever used; the food is "over the top" fantastic; the people everywhere have been kind and helpful when they hear us trying to find our way or while eating in a bistro. We will be sad to leave!Life is for the living!!!! Grab it while you can.

  • I registered my upcoming solo trip to Paris with STEP – Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. Check it out – https://step.state.gov.The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a free service to allow U.S. citizens and nationals traveling abroad to enroll their trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Your passport information is also on file which eliminates some of the stress related to a lost/stolen passport. It's great! You receive important information from the Embassy about safety conditions in your destination country, helping you make informed decisions about your travel plans. As there always seems to be a strike or protest in Paris the advisory also alerts you to strike dates, times, and areas to avoid. Especially helpful to know in advance if you're relying on transportation.Enrollment in the program allows the U.S. Embassy to contact you in an emergency, whether natural disaster, civil unrest, or family emergency.

  • I must have been the luckiest tourist. I was recently in Paris, from May 3rd to May 10th and had the most glorious weather. Weather aside, I rode the Metro (many, many times), and walked my feet off all over the city. Never once did I feel uncomfortable in this city that I love so much. I encourage everyone to visit this most beautiful of cities.

  • This June will make my third trip to Paris since January. Paris or its inhabitants show no sign of slowing down because of terrorist attacks, riots or anything else. It's a glorious and wonderful city. I am an older woman and always travel alone. I have never felt unsafe in Paris. I can't wIt to go back.

  • I felt totally safe roaming around Paris. The only danger I encountered was falling in love with the hot guy nextdoor. Other potential dangers if you go to Paris are gaining weight from cheese, wine, pastries and emptying your ATM account from shopping at Hermes.

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