‘It’s amazing’ – French rejoice as bars and restaurants reopen

Restaurants and bars were allowed to reopen on Tuesday, as France entered "phase 2" of its cautious, step-by-step lifting of the nationwide lockdown.

'It's amazing' - French rejoice as bars and restaurants reopen
Photo: AFP

“I am thrilled,” said Mariette, who was drinking her first in-house coffee in three months.

Sitting outside in a small restaurant at Place des Vosges, in Les Marais – an area beloved both by Parisians and tourists in the heart of the capital – Mariette was accompanied by her sleeping baby granddaughter.

For the first time in a very long time, she said, life was getting back to normal.

“It's amazing,” she said.


France's cafés, bars and restaurants were closed down by order of the government on March 15th – two days before the strict nationwide lockdown began. 

But as of, June 2nd, the beginning of “phase 2” of the lifting of lockdown, restaurants could get back in business – provided they kept with a long list of health rules. 

In the greater Paris region Île-de-France, only restaurants with an outdoor areas – terraces –  could reopen, as the region’s coronavirus levels remain too high for the government to deem it safe to relax the rules as much as they have in the rest of the country.

READ ALSO What changes as France moves into phase 2 of lockdown?

“It’s kind of like D-day for us,” said Alain Marcillac, the owner of a restaurant in the Marais, who was waving around the long, yellow ruler he used to check that all his outdoor tables were spaced out with the required one metre distance.

“We'll have too many tables,” he concluded solemnly, adding that, with his regular service slashed in half, he “would not be doing any miracles,” money-wise.


A long string of financial hits

French restaurant owners, especially those in Paris, had already suffered heavy economic losses from the mass-strike movement that brought transport in the region to a virtual standstill for December and January. 

Before that, they saw their incomes plunging for several weekends in a row during the 'yellow vest' protests in the spring of 2019.

Counting himself lucky to be one of the Parisian restaurant owners with a terrace, Marcillac was determined to make this work.

IN PICTURES: Paris café terraces reopen after lockdown


Photo: AFP

Masks and hand sanitiser

On a regular, pre-coronavirus day, Marcillac said he would have “about 30 customers on a morning like this,” a warm and sunny Tuesday, perfect for sitting outside.

Today, there was just one guest, a Frenchman who had come back to Paris for work after spending lockdown in the countryside along with numerous self-exiled Parisians. 

“It’s nice to start the morning like this (..), to be able to sit a little bit outside before spending the day in the office,” he said, untangling his mask from one of his ears to take a sip of his espresso.

'I'm not worried'

A little further down the road, Christelle was enjoying a glass of wine in the sun. She had come all the way from the Brittany coast to Paris to go to the hairdresser.

“Having a drink like this makes it feel like we’re restarting a little bit,” she said.

It's what I like best in Paris. Having a stroll, having a drink.. Things need to restart again.”

Like most of the guests sat around her, Christelle was not wearing a mask. While staff need to wear masks at all times, customers may remove them when seated.

“People are not too close to each other, so I’m not worried,” Christelle said.

Inside restaurants, an area off-limit for Parisian guests at least until June 22nd, the tone was different.

“Everyone has their mask on?” yelled one employee at a café at Place des Vosges, in which the employees was working at full speed to get their lunch service ready.

Along with the wearing of masks, restaurants are supposed to disinfect tables between each customer and ensure that everyone washes their hands at the entry.

“We keep hand sanitising gel readily available so that the clients can help themselves as much as they want,” said Carole Bourgoin, the manager of Cour des Vosges' hotel restaurant.

Restaurants in Paris can ask for permission to extend their outdoor areas in order to be able to receive more customers while keeping with health rules. Photo: AFP

Closed off streets to cars

Bourgoin's restaurant benefited from a decision by the City of Paris to close off certain streets to cars until the end of September, to allow for owners to widen their outdoor spaces and seat more tables.

“It's a real advantage to us,” she said, pointing to the extra tables spread out on what used to be parking spots for cars.

“We've been able to add about six tables and the whole street has been pedestrianised,” she said.



But not everyone had received permission to expand their terraces yet.

Mokhtar Ashry, owner of a restaurant just next to the Bastille square, was giving the e-scooters parked just outside his slim terrace a sour look.

Soon, he said, he hoped to replace the scooters with some of his many unused tables, piled up inside.

“It would give me space to seat least 16 or 20 extra people,” he said, 

Slightly reopening was however “much better than staying closed,” he said

“It gives back morale to the staff. We are beginning a normal life again,” he said.

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Life in France: 5 plants that (allegedly) repel mosquitoes

Summer in France brings lots of good stuff and some deeply annoying things, like mosquitoes. But did you know that there are plants that you can add to your garden or balcony that will repel these deeply unwelcome visitors?

Life in France: 5 plants that (allegedly) repel mosquitoes

If you’re one of these people who are attractive to mosquitoes then you’ll know the misery of spending the summer covered in itchy red lumps – and the bad news is that the rising global temperatures mean that ‘mosquito season’ in France now lasts longer.

It’s a common problem and in the summer French florists and garden centres often sell ‘anti-moustique‘ plants.

We’re not promising a 100 percent repellent rate, but these are some plants that apparently help.

In good news, most of them are small enough so that you can grow them on your balcony or in a window box if you don’t have a garden.  

Mint (menthe)

A common herb that many people might already have in their gardens, but mosquitoes apparently hate the lovely, fresh scent of mint.

And even if it fails to ward off the bugs, at least you can use the leaves to garnish food or make a nice big jug of Pimms (which might distract you from your horrible, itchy bites).

READ MORE: France’s most toxic plants and berries to watch out for

Marigolds (Rose d’inde, sometimes known as Souci)

These are a popular choice to add a touch of colour to a window box or balcony, as well as to a garden, and have the added benefit of warding off mosquitoes.

Gardeners like them because can boost the growth of other plants when planted together.

Rosemary (romarain)

Another aromatic herb that humans love and mosquitoes apparently hate.

If you’re planting it in the garden use a container because it has a tendency to spread and take over your garden. If you don’t want to grown it, or don’t have the space, you can always add a couple of sprigs to your grill when barbecuing to help keep the mosquitoes away as you dine outdoors.

Lemongrass (citronelle)

You’ll certainly be aware of citronella scent from various mosquito-repelling products including oils and candles, but you can also grow it in the your garden.

It grows quite big so might not be suitable for small gardens or window boxes.

Even if it doesn’t succeed in keeping insets away, you can use it in cooking to add a lemony flavour.

Wormwood (absinthe)

The final one on the list is usually said to be the most effective, but should be used with caution as it is toxic if eaten.

You can grow it in your garden or in a window box, but take great care that it doesn’t end up with your edible herbs as it will make you sick – if you have a garden when children or animals are present then it’s probably best to avoid this one altogether, but on the plus side its pungent scent will keep mosquitoes away.

As the French name suggests, wormwood is one of the main ingredients in the drink Absinthe and is what gives it the distinctive green colour.

Legend has it that wormwood is the active ingredient that makes people hallucinate after drinking absinthe, but in fact the drink is not hallucinogenic and never was. It is extremely strong though, which might explain some of those ‘visions’!

Other tips

Mosquitoes like to hang out and to breed in water or long grass, so you can help keep them away by eliminating their favourite spots. For example;

  • Keep lawns trimmed
  • Eliminate sources of stagnant water eg old plant pots that collect rainwater
  • Keep your gutters clear
  • If you have a pond consider installing a small fountain or pump, as mosquitoes usually won’t lay eggs in moving water