At the entrance to the Galeries Lafayette luxury department store, security guards acting as hygiene inspectors pump generous drops of disinfectant into buyers’ outstretched palms.
Along one of the French capital’s busiest traffic arteries, cars and scooters have been replaced by a constant convoy of bicycle commuters, some in suits, some in skirts, pedaling side by side in ways orderly but hasty.
And finally, on Thursday, the metal steps of the Eiffel Tower began to sound once again at the footsteps of visitors ready to go up to have a view of the city while the elevators remain out of action.
Welcome to Paris after closing, where the new normal is characterized by facial masks, floor marks, Plexiglas, and hand sanitizer. And a lot of it.
While the city has gradually reopened as of June 2, most notably, it allows residents to return to city parks and leave the house freely (previously they had to fill out forms justifying their departures), a Starting June 15, restaurants and cafes were allowed to reopen in Paris, in the clearest and loudest signal that the closure was finally over.
Chez L’Ami Jean has reopened in Paris with new outdoor seating on a sidewalk.
Because without the buzz of its cafes, outdoor patios, bars, and pubs, Paris is a strange city.
At Chez L’Ami Jean, located in the 7th arrondissement, chef Stéphane Jégo stripped the restaurant of its stools and scrupulously pushed the dining room tables apart to comply with France’s three-foot physical distance rule.
To make up for the loss of half of the 55 seats in the dining room, the chef has created an outdoor patio in places normally reserved for street parking.
It’s a major change for the bistro, popular with tourists and locals alike due to its family-style food, where the parties are packed side by side and the atmosphere is loud, lively, and lively.
To preserve the environment, Jégo was forced to rethink the design of the restaurant that he ran for the past 17 years.
He quickly came up with a concept that takes the bistro back to its original roots, when he sold coffee, wine, and sandwiches along with newspapers and products to neighborhood residents nearly a century ago.
The reinvented restaurant now has a small window garden market that sells local produce (heirloom cherries, carrots, and tomatoes) along with homemade pate and terrines.
To draw in the crowd after work and the snack, stools, high tables, and a tapas bar have been installed in the front of the bistro, while a separate space inside sells a selection of the chef’s favorite wines.
In an attempt to make Chez L’Ami Jean more accessible, only a few reservations will be accepted at a time, according to the chef.
Absence of tourists
“We wanted to give people a feeling of intimacy, closeness and friendliness in the restaurant,” says chef Stephane Jego from Chez L’Ami.
“Since this famous virus separated us from each other, we wanted to give people back a feeling of intimacy, closeness and coexistence in the restaurant,” he said.
It is a commercial strategy aimed at diversifying the restaurant, but also at attracting more local Parisians to compensate for the lack of tourists, who accounted for half of its usual clientele.
Witnessing Paris without tourists has provided some locals with an understanding of how much international visitors contribute to the city’s energy and environment.
Restaurants in Paris are struggling to reopen after French President Emmanuel Macron declared the first wave of the coronavirus crisis.
During a recent visit to the Montmartre area, Parisian Huguette Dauria, 77, said she was surprised by the empty streets.
“All the stores were closed and Montmartre was empty. It was strange to see it. The city is really quiet. Tourists help bring the city to life,” said the retiree.
Parisian museum worker Patricia Servain, 40, agrees.
“It is nice because there is more space, but Paris has lost its cosmopolitan atmosphere. I miss hearing different languages. If it continues like this, it will be strange.”
Although the city has reopened, Dauria said she is shocked to see some of her fellow Parisians scoff at the rules of social estrangement and don’t wear masks.
“It seems that people don’t really understand what just happened,” said Dauria.
“We need to be on guard to avoid a second wave. But people walk without masks, they gather in large groups … It’s not right.”
Dauria’s husband, Daniel, disapproves that everything has returned to be as before.
“It’s like we just woke up from a dream and none of this happened.”
For his part, Servain said he has become a more homey person since the shutdown and avoids densely populated areas.
“The virus has led us to think things differently,” adds Jégo.
From shopping, public transportation and museum visits, this is what the new normal will look like in the French capital, until a vaccine or treatment is found:
Some streets become temporary bike lanes as an alternative to public transportation.
The result? It is as if someone turned down the volume of the cacophony of horns and roaring engines throughout the city, a respite for the nerves.
Men in suits, their jackets flapping behind them in the wind, pedal alongside women in skirts and spring flats, students and bike messengers.
Dispensers filled with hand sanitizer have also been installed in select bus shelters, and masks are required on all public transportation and taxis.
There are also decals on the floors of the trains, as well as on some seats, to help people passengers at a social distance whenever possible.
Many stores and department stores require that all shoppers wear masks.
Although masks are not mandatory in public spaces, many private stores, boutiques, and department stores require that all shoppers wear them during their visit.
Shoppers are invited to disinfect their hands with hand sanitizer placed at store entrances, and in some boutiques, customers are asked to refrain from touching and handling merchandise.
That means not being able to display lipsticks or creams at the beauty counter or closely inspecting home décor items. Shoppers are also reminded to stay apart from each other, at least three steps away on the Galeries Lafayette escalator, and the Plexiglass separates them from sales associates at the checkout.
Museums and landmarks
The Eiffel Tower reopened on June 25.
THOMAS SAMSON / AFP via Getty Images
No more crowding of the Mona Lisa. At the Louvre, which reopens on July 6, visitors must purchase advance tickets online and commit to a schedule, similar to a date or movie time, to help with crowd control.
Visitors also have to follow a designated path to popular paintings and exhibits, namely the Mona Lisa, to help ease congestion. On the same day, tickets on the site will be sold based on availability, but priority will be given to online ticket holders.
In addition, visitors must purchase advance tickets online for the Musée d’Orsay and the Palace of Versailles.
For visits to all major museums and landmarks, masks are required.
Go out for dinner
All restaurant tables must be three feet apart to allow for physical distance.
One of the defining characteristics of the Parisian bistro and café scene is the way the tables are placed side by side, almost flush next to each other.
Taking a seat requires removing the table from your line formation and carefully squeezing between the two tables and into your chair.
But not anymore. The Covid-19 directive in France now requires tables to be separated by a minimum of three feet for physical distance.
To help make up for the loss of tables, the city has been issuing permits that allow restaurateurs to convert street parking and sidewalks into what Jégo calls “bistrotrottoirs” or sidewalk bistros.
Meanwhile, indoors, all staff should wear masks, and diners should also wear masks when going to the bathroom or walking in the dining room.
Seats are limited to groups of 10 or less. Some restaurateurs have also introduced QR code menus that can be activated by smartphones to remove paper menus, while contactless payment is preferred to cash.