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How Terrorism Has Changed Everyday Life In Paris

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Photo: Mustafa Yalcin/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
The Eiffel Tower is illuminated in the colors of the French flag to honor victims of Paris attacks on November 17, 2015 in Paris, France. At least 132 people were killed and some 350 injured in the terror attacks on 13 November, which targeted a concert venue, a sports stadium, and several restaurants and bars in Paris.
One year ago today, on the evening of 13th November 2015, many of us stopped what we were doing as terrifying push notifications lit up our phones. We left dinner early, abandoned the pub, called loved ones and texted anyone we knew who might be in danger.

A series of seven coordinated terrorist attacks were taking place in Paris – in a concert hall, a major stadium, restaurants and bars – which left 130 people dead and hundreds wounded, around 20 of whom remain in hospital today with horrific, life-changing injuries. A further 600 victims are still receiving out-patient treatment, while 2,000 others are going through some form of trauma counselling.

The attacks, for which militant terrorists Islamic State claimed responsibility, were viewed as a direct assault on the Western way of life. They targeted Paris, what they called “the capital of abomination and perversion”, on purpose and we were aghast at how close to home it all felt. The victims looked just like us; they were carefree, from different ethnic and social backgrounds, many were young, and they were enjoying themselves on a Friday night.

What happened that night changed many people's lives irreparably. Relationships, dreams and whole families were shattered, and it's these people who should be at the forefront of our minds as we take a moment today to reflect on what happened this time last year.

But the impact of the attacks was felt city-wide and many Parisians and tourists remain gripped by a fear that something similar could happen again. So what effect did those horrific events have on the capital of the most-visited country in the world, the network of businesses that make up its economy, and the daily lives of the Parisian people?

The city usually welcomes around 16 million visitors annually but tourism has plummeted in the last year, with one million fewer tourists visiting the city and its surrounding region each month between January and August, according to regional council leader Valérie Pécresse. Tourism is crucial to the French economy, generating 7% of its GDP, with over 13% of this in the Paris region alone. This year, however, the impact of the terrorist attacks, strikes and floods cost the industry a reported £644m (€750m).

Tourist hotspots in particular have suffered from foreign holidaymakers abandoning the city. Disneyland Paris saw cancellations and a drop in visitors, and queues for attractions including the Louvre Museum and the Eiffel Tower, which could usually take hours, were considerably shorter this year.

“I noticed the tourist crowds were thinner this year, especially around some of the major tourist areas like Montmartre and in the area around the Eiffel Tower. Lines have been shorter," said Erin Zaleski, a Paris-based journalist for The Daily Beast who covered the attacks. "I also wasn't able to rent my flat out on Airbnb when I was travelling in August, which was surprising given the number of tourists who are usually in the city during that time.”
Photo: Thierry Orban/Getty Images
Tributes are left outside the Le Carillon restaurant in memory of the victims of the Paris terror attacks last Friday, on November 16, 2015 in Paris, France. Countries across Europe joined France, currently observing three days of national mourning, in a one minute-silence today in an expression of solidarity with the victims of the terrorist attacks, which left at least 129 people dead and hundreds more injured.
For many smaller businesses, like pubs, bars and clubs, which make up the backbone of Paris’s leisure economy, the cost of fewer tourists has been harder to absorb. Bar and restaurant Le Comptoir Général is located around 50 metres from Le Petit Cambodge and Le Carillon, two of the restaurants targeted in the attacks. It is continuing to feel the consequences.

"Our venue, like all bars and restaurants in the surrounding area, saw turnover dive between 30 to 50% during several weeks," Céline Degrave, associate director of Walt Group, which owns Le Comptoir Général, told Refinery29. "Parisian people came back after a few days, but tourists – especially those from outside Europe – haven't really come back yet, a year after. We can still feel the impact on the numbers, but we feel lucky compared to smaller places who are in a really preoccupying situation."

Venues all over the city – from shops and cinemas to stadiums and museums – have tightened their security since the attacks by hiring security guards, checking bags and using metal detectors. The whole country also remains in a state of emergency (it was extended after 84 people were killed in Nice in July), which grants the police extra powers to conduct searches and put people under house arrest.

Le Comptoir Général has upped its measures accordingly, said Degrave. “We have two or three checkpoints before people access the entrance, visitors are checked when they enter, security men wear bulletproof jackets, people are forbidden to sit everywhere in the rooms in case of a crowd movement and we have a red line open 24/7 with the local police."

Such measures, while welcomed by most and considered necessary, are a constant reminder of the risks of living in a highly populated, outward-looking Western city. Many Parisians have become hyper-vigilant and used to living with a low-level fear of the worst. While many no longer feel as scared or anxious as they did late last year, a fear of terror has changed the way people think as they make their way around Paris.

“My routine hasn't changed, but I have lost a sense of security to an extent. I used to feel Paris was a much safer city compared to many US cities and felt very carefree when I was out and about. That former insouciance has been shaken,” said Zaleski.

Nowadays, when entering a theatre or bar, she always checks where the emergency exits are located. "It has become this knee-jerk reaction for me and for a few of my friends. I never used to do that. There are also moments when I'm sitting at a sidewalk cafe, and I will notice how close to the road it is and think of what an easy target my table could be. I never had these kinds of thoughts before the attacks.”

Julie Krengel, 24, who was born and raised in Paris and still lives there, said that while she still goes to bars and restaurants as normal, she sometimes "thinks about what would happen if a terrorist arrived right now and attacked us".
"You can definitely feel a tension when you take the Metro or when there are big gatherings with crowds," she added. "You can see everyone is trying to be more aware and vigilant. During the Fête des Vendanges [harvest festival] in Montmartre last month, the streets were crowded and the police were constantly checking everyone's coats and bags.”

But this feeling isn't confined to the French capital – residents and tourists in many metropolitan cities around the world feel the same, after a devastating year in which terrorist attacks have been prominent in the news.

“I get scared when going out in London as well as Paris," said Clémence Menesguen, 25, who had lived in Paris most of her life but is now based in London. "I read virtually every article about the attacks and witness statements, so it’s hard to just erase these horrible images of my memory.

"The subsequent events in Orlando, Belgium and Nice didn’t help either. I still go out, but sometimes it takes me a couple of drinks to relax and I tend to avoid big gatherings.”

Another effect of the attacks has been to challenge the way many young people conceive of their France and their place in it. “The attacks affected young people in an unprecedented way because we were the targets: a joyful, open-minded, tolerant and diverse generation," said Léa, 26, who has lived in Paris for eight years.

"The events changed the way we see our country and what we thought we had and were before they happened – that is, a free, safe and open-minded country. We never thought we could be in danger really, or felt physically threatened in our everyday life. It made us realise that our freedom and safety weren't set in stone."

However, thoughts like this haven't dampened the French spirit and Parisians remain defiant against the threat of terrorists, who sought to punish them for their free-spirited way of life. Many took to social media in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, using the hashtags #JeSuisEnTerrace (I am on the terrace) and #tousaubistrot (back to the bistro) to encourage each other to return to the city’s trademark cafes and bars and continue with normal life.


It turned an activity that had previously been an everyday facet of French life – such as enjoying a glass of red wine at a bar, dinner al fresco, dancing in a club and even kissing a loved one on the street – into something much more. Going out has become a political act, said Krengel. "By keeping on going out, we show that we are not afraid and we won't stop living because of them.”

The cover of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, which itself lost 12 members of staff after a terrorist shooting just 10 months earlier, was suitably defiant after the November attacks. "They have weapons. Screw them, we have Champagne!" read the headline, accompanied by a cartoon drawing of a bullet-ridden man spouting Champagne.
Going to cafes, bars and live events with friends remains an important part of life in Paris. "Continuing to do so is a way of saying 'fuck you' to the terrorists and their twisted ideology," said Zaleski. "Several events were cancelled this year for security reasons and people got angry. The annual open-air summer cinema at La Villette was cancelled, and some events at the wine harvest festival in Montmartre were scrapped. It made people angry and the refrain I kept hearing was, 'Nice way to let the terrorists win!'
"Most people were angrier at the idea of terrorism changing the normal rhythm of life than they were afraid of fresh attacks," Zaleski added.

"'Generation Bataclan hasn't forgotten but they are not letting it get in the way of a good time," said Henry Samuel, Paris correspondent for The Daily Telegraph, telling Refinery29 that virtually all the bars and restaurants that were targeted are now up and running again (the Bataclan concert hall reopened yesterday with a Sting concert). "Despite the fact that military patrols dot the capital because of the ongoing state of emergency, there is no sense of being under siege.”

In fact, the attacks have encouraged some people to enjoy the city and their lives even more than they had before. "I didn't want to go out in the first week or two, but afterwards I almost wanted to go out more. Life is too precious to live in fear and I wanted to cherish each and every moment," said Lily Heise, a writer in her 30s who has lived in Paris for 15 years.

“The French are very defiant, it's the country of revolutions after all! The attacks were a devastating hit to the country, especially its youth who were the target of the terrorists, but their resilience is admirable. There's been no lasting shake to the country's joie de vivre.”


There has been an increase in civic engagement among 18 to 30 year-olds, with more getting involved in volunteering and similar activities, according to reports. “The attacks may have got Parisians to cocoon more than before and spend time at home with family and friends, certainly in the short term," said Samuel.

"But today they continue to want to go out and socialise. There is, if anything, a greater desire to meet others in soirées, for human contact, almost as an act of defiance.”

So, if life for most Parisians has returned to normal, what needs to be done to bring foreign holidaymakers back to the city?

Regional council leader Valérie Pécresse recently announced a "charm offensive", to boost its ailing tourism industry and court those scared off by terrorism. Her ideas included introducing English lessons for those working in tourism, better foreign language signage, a new city pass and renaming the "state of emergency" to the less serious-sounding "a high-security state".

Prime Minister Manuel Valls also recently announced a new €43 million grant to fund extra security, plus an advertising campaign and other measures to help struggling restaurants and hotels and bring back tourists, particularly those from Asia.

Restaurants like Le Comptoir Général are also working closely with city officials to renew what they can offer tourists.“We are working very closely with the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, on a six-year plan aimed at reviving tourism in Paris," said Degrave. Among the 59 planned actions are improved security and communication towards tourists, and a renewed focus on international partnerships.

Paris does have one trick up its sleeve that could offer a solution to the tourism problem: the 2024 Olympic Games. It is among the final three cities competing to host the games, alongside Budapest and Los Angeles, the outcome of which will be announced in September 2017.

“If Paris won the right to host the Olympics, that would trigger and simplify a lot of things, and motivate people to make Paris even more desirable than it was before that terrible day of November 13th.”
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