‘Life will go on’: French resilience in the face of the coronavirus

On Friday, France woke up to a new dawn in the fight against the coronavirus with the government pledging to close all schools and banning all gatherings of more than 100 people. Sophie Gorman went out to find out how Parisians were coping with the new rules.

‘Life will go on’: French resilience in the face of the coronavirus
A customer walks past empty racks in a store near the French city Lyon. Photo: AFP

It was business as usual for some, but business as crazy for others in Paris on Friday. At Chez Pradel, a traditional French bistro on Rue Ordener in Paris's 18th arrondissement, the patron noted no change in clientele numbers.

“People still want to eat lunch,” he said laconically.

He did admit he was concerned about the effect of the virus not just on his business, but also those of his customers. “It is hard to know what to expect, we can only live in today. People are here, business is normal and that is all I can tell you about today.”

Across the street in the hipster cool Boulom bakery, pastries were still being eaten and coffees drunk without any sense of an impeding apocalypse.

“I think this will hit us all next week, but for today I think most people are just going on with life,” said a young lady emerging from lunch. “What’s the point in getting very worried, that won’t change anything.”

You can find the latest information on the coronavirus situation in France here.

But not everyone is quite so prosaic, if scenes in the nearby Monoprix are anything to go by.

Aisles are blocked by crate upon crate of groceries being packed up for home delivery.

“Deliveries did increase exponentially over the last three weeks, due to the virus. But they exploded this morning,” one staff member reported. “We can’t keep up with all the on-line orders. It seems a lot of people just feel safer shopping from home.”

One female shopper has decided to make lasagne, “because there is absolutely no other pasta left,” she laughed. “Why would I not be here shopping in the supermarket? We are not all contagious. But the thing I don’t understand is why people are buying so much. It seems a little selfish to me, there should be enough for everyone.”

The key products for panic-buying in France include all the old favourites of pasta, rice, tinned vegetables and toilet paper. The milk stocks are also running low, as is the cat food. And you can forget about antibacterial gels, in this supermarket there isn’t even any normal hand soap left.

Another customer has a trolley filled with toilet paper, almost emptying the last straggling loo rolls from the shelves. “I have four children and I don't know what it's going to be like next week, I am worried.”

This is not a sentiment shared by everyone.

A tall English man, standing on his toes to reach one of the last bottles of pasta sauce to help a distinctly smaller French woman, said “I don’t think this is the time to panic. Life will go on, life is going on. We just need to try to stay calm and help each other if we can.”

Member comments

  1. I can’t imagine why people are buying toilet paper, or masses of food for that matter. Most family shops will start to deteriate after a week or two and this pandemic is going to be with us for most of the year, at least. If I shopped every day then it would make sense try and buy more so as not to have to expose myself so often, but most people, certainly families tend to do one ‘big shop’at a time … so what’s the differenc?

  2. Good article. I like the attitude of the woman referenced early in the article. I feel the same way. “What’s the point in getting very worried, that won’t change anything.” Exactly. Just breathe, protect yourself, and help others when you can. Be a calming influence to those around you. Beyond that, we have very little control over what happens on the larger scale so make the most of whatever time there is. Make a difference to one person at a time.

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Revealed: The best cities in France to be a student

Every year, QS best student cities releases its ranking of the world's most student-friendly locations. This year four French cities made the list.

Revealed: The best cities in France to be a student

As a student, some cities are more attractive than others. Each year QS rankings assess 140 cities around the world based on what they have to offer students in terms of their affordability, quality of life, the opinions of former students who studied there, as well as general desirability, employer activity, and how many students live there. 

This year, for the 2023 ranking, five French cities – Paris, Lyon, Toulouse, and Montpellier – made the list, with Paris making the top 10. 

Paris, Lyon and Toulouse have been listed in the ‘best cities’ ranking for several years, but this will be the first year for Montpellier. In order to be included, the population must be a minimum of 250,000 people and the city must be home to at least two universities that have been listed in the QS World University Rankings.

READ ALSO 8 ways to save money as a student in France

This year, France’s cities have moved up in the list. Across the board, two factors improved: “student mix” and desirability. The former measures what proportion of the city is made up of students, as well as the diversity of students and the inclusivity of the city and country for students, while the latter measures general questions like safety, pollution, and how appealing the city is to respondents.

On the other hand, affordability and “student voice” – the rating students gave the city’s friendliness, sustainability, diversity, etc, as well as how many students continue to live there after graduation – went down this year. However, affordability has decreased across the board in student cities around the world. 

France’s cities

Paris – The French capital came in 8th place worldwide and remains an extremely attractive destination for potential students. Paris is home to nine institutions ranked on the QS World University Rankings, and scored well with employment prospects.

The city came in seventh place for “employer activity” this year. The ranking said this is due to Paris graduates being “highly respected by employers” and that “there are lots of international firms based in the city’s business district which frequently hire skilled graduates.” In the student survey, the prospect of being surrounded by “beautiful monuments, history and culture” was appealing, as well as Paris’ nightlife. 

READ ALSO These are the culture shocks you will experience as a foreign student in Paris

Lyon – The gastronomy centre of France ranked 45th in the world, scoring well in terms of “student mix” and affordability. Lyon was credited for low tuition fees for international students. In surveys, students reported enjoying the ‘diversity of students from across the world’ in Lyon.

Toulouse – La ville rose in France’s south west moved up eight places in the ranking this year. Making it into the top 100, Toulouse came out at 78th. Toulouse was praised for its cost of living, as the city offers significantly lower average costs for rent – for example, a one bedroom apartment in the city centre an average of €712 per month, compared to €1,410 in Paris.

Montpellier – This year was Montpellier’s debut on the list, ranking 199th. The city performed well for its first year, especially in terms of affordability – ranking 35th.  

What about the non-French cities?

An overall trend is that cities are becoming less affordable for students.

In terms of rankings, London, held onto its first place spot, which it has had for the past four years, while Seoul and Munich tied for second place. The other European cities to make the top 10 list were Zurich (4th) and Berlin (6th).