Category Archives: Paris, Île-de-France

Making Sense of Terror Attacks in France, Episode 92

Making Sense of Terror Attacks in France
Photo Zlatko Vickovic

New terror attacks in France have been making the headlines for over a week and have shocked the world. It is important to try to make sense of what happened with the attacks of Nov 13th, 2015 and put it in the context of French culture and history. Guest Patrick Béja comes on the show to share his experiences as a news commentator and a resident of Paris. Patrick is the host of a news commentary show in English as well as two French language podcasts on Tech news and Gaming news. He comes on the show today to help Annie make sense of terror attacks in France.

If you love our approach to travel and want to tour France with us, visit Addicted to France to look at upcoming tours.

Making Sense of Terror Attacks in France Episode Highlights

  • Recap of the Events of Nov 13, 2015
  • What the State of Emergency Means in France
  • Should You, Potential Visitor, Change Anything As a Result of these Attacks?
  • The Effects of Terror Attacks on Tourism
  • What the Word “Laïcité” Means in French
  • The Issue of Wearing the Veil in France
  • How Much Religious Accommodation Is Too Much?
  • Religion and Patriotism Are Not What Unify French People, the Republic Is!
  • Where Do You Draw the Line?
  • Law Against Conspicuous Religious Signs in Schools
  • Conclusion: Making Sense of Terror Attacks in France

Most Requested Book Following the Attacks: Hemmingway’s A Moveable Feast

If you liked this episode, also listen to How to Stay Safe in France, Episode 50 and Secularism and Free Speech in France, Episode 51.

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Making Sense of Terror Attacks in France
Patrick Béja

Recap of the Events of Nov 13, 2015

Attacks on the Stade de France where security did its job and did not let the attackers in. Then attacks on a café and a restaurant near the Canal Saint Martin. Then attack on the Bataclan where most of the victims died. There are some important differences between the attacks on Charlie Hebdo that took place in January 2015 and the attacks of November 2015. In the first, the victims were journalists who took risks by steering controversy. But in the second it was regular people who were targeted. It is also the first time we’ve had suicide bombers in France. The state of emergency was declared right away and has been prolonged for 3 months by a vote of the French parliament.

What the State of Emergency Means in France

While the state of emergency is in effect in France “perquisitions” (searches) can be performed with out a search warrant. Police can decide without the approval of a prosecutor when it is time to intervene. Searches can also happen any time of the day whereas outside of the state of emergency searches have to happen between 6 AM and 9 PM.

Public cameras and internet surveillance laws will be updated in response to these attacks. On the other hand curtailment of the freedom of the press, which was part of the state of emergency law in France as it was written many decades ago, has been removed from the state of emergency package in France.

It is very likely that the number of surveillance cameras in France will increase, not so much to prevent crime but rather to make it easier to have evidence to convict perpetrators.

Most French people are in agreement with these measures because they going to be in effect for a limited time.  French President François Hollande is also trying to modify the Constitution so that suspects can be assigned to residence easily even outside of the state of emergency and their internet access limited or at least scrutinized. Making decisions motivated by urgency (and possibly fear as well) is not generally a good idea and it is important to consider what happens when those decisions are applied to too many people. Also how do you decide who is worthy of extra scrutiny? How do you stop scrutinizing people if it was all a mistake?

A “fiche S” in France is kept about persons who are suspected of being a security risk and police is supposed to keep a close eye on them. There are 10,000 people on that list. Not all 10,000 will be detained in residence, which ones should and shouldn’t? There will almost certainly also be people on whom there is a “fiche S” who should be locked up and weren’t and commit terrible acts. It’s impossible to prevent such problems at times.

Should You, Potential Visitor, Change Anything As a Result of these Attacks?

How will Patrick’s life in Paris change as a result? Probably not at all. The people of Paris have a desire to change nothing. Parisians do not want to change their way of life and it is very likely that within a few days, things will get back to normal. What may force us to change things are possible changes in technology such as secure messaging, cryptography, backdoor access to software, etc. It may be difficult to convince French people that requiring back doors is a bad idea.

The Effects of Terror Attacks on Tourism

10% of bookings in Paris were cancelled and another 30% were rescheduled which was to be expected. If Annie had made a reservation to go to Paris this week she might have postponed it too because increased police presence and site closings are a hassle. The likelihood of being caught in a terror attack is so small, but the inconvenience is real. It is important to realize that the aim of these attacks is to frighten us and it is better to go on despite our natural fears.

What the Word “Laïcité” Means in French

In English you’ve heard of the term “lay clergy” which means a person who is not a trained theologian who still participates in religious life. In France “laïcité” has a very different meaning. It is the person who is without theology period. The person you can trust to not bow to the priest because of their fear of damnation. French culture has this ingrained idea that one must protect one’s self against the power of church.  That fear has now morphed into a fear of Muslims rather than Catholicism, but it comes from the same place.

Patrick feels that it’s very difficult for people who are not French to understand the complicated relationship that French people have with all religion. In the US any criticism of religion is a big problem. In France it is not like that generally speaking. French people have the attitude that everyone can do whatever they want as far as religion is concerned, but don’t bother the rest of us with it. Most of the time things go very smoothly with that attitude.

The Issue of Wearing the Veil in France

Growing up in France in the 70s, Muslim girls did not cover their hair in school for instance. Annie feels that the law of 2004 made things worse because you see a lot more Muslim women covering up in France today than you ever did. And they cover more too!

Patrick feels like it’s a big mistake to condemn Islam over these isolated events. These attacks stem from a small number of Muslims who practice a particular brand of Islam that is not common. But it would also be a mistake to ignore the fact that there are some Muslims in France that preach a very extreme and violent type of Islam in the heart of France. This particular brand of violent Islam is also very opposed to the whole idea of secularism that France is so attached to. Wearing a head scarf is not an issue, what we have a problem with is what we call “ostentatoire” signs of religions such as a full burka.

As French people should we be accepting of that in the name of religious tolerance or should we be against it because it changes our culture and way of life? If you are attached to the rights of women, you have to care about these questions. It got to the point in Paris (where they specifically hired bus drivers from immigrant families in the hopes to deflate tensions) a few dozen bus drivers refused to drive a bus that had been driven by a woman. There was also the case of a woman who delivered her baby early, the nurse midwife the couple had selected couldn’t be there, so the male doctor at the small rural hospital took care of her. After the baby was born the woman’s husband punched him in the face because he was not happy that another man had touched his wife. We should not overstate the prevalence of these incidents, but they happen in France.

How Much Religious Accommodation Is Too Much?

France is a very liberal country compared to the US, and the law of 2004 may have been a reaction to too much leeway being given to religious practices that we find strange and uncomfortable. It’s easy for anyone to see that punching a doctor in the face is wrong, but this manifests in much subtler ways. For instance, should schools provide pork-free meals or is that giving in to religious dictates? What about separating boys and girls in school? What about unisex buses? Where should France draw the line?

Annie thinks schools must accommodate children’s needs by offering a vegetarian meal which would satisfy Jews, Muslims and vegetarian too. This is particularly true because in France you can’t send your kids to school with a lunch you made at home. What if the kid has a medical issue? Patrick objects that in the case of a medical issue the school needs to make an exception, but should it make an exception in the case of religion. Annie thinks they should, Patrick isn’t sure. This has become an issue because we’re OK with religion as long as you don’t make a big deal out of it, and asking for religious exception is too much.

Religion and Patriotism Are Not What Unify French People, the Republic Is!

We don’t trust religion in France because it bases your decisions on fundamentals that cannot be questioned. Everyone who lives in France is supposed to stand for the Republic and the ideals that go along with it. That works in principle, but in reality a lot of people are left out, especially those who happen to have typical Algerian names. France attracted a lot of immigrants from North Africa in the 50s and housed them in large complexes at the periphery of large cities. Those places have become ghettos that are almost 100% segregated. And now you have second and third generation children of those immigrants from the 50s who live in segregated housing and are disenfranchised.  They are less integrated into French life than their parents and grandparents.

Where Do You Draw the Line?

French people have the idea that when you come to France you must leave your religion and your culture at the door. Immigrants who accept that integrate well, but it’s a lot to ask. On the other hand if you accept that immigrants come with their differences and you want to accommodate them, where do you draw the line? Do you have public pools only for women and children? Do you have days when only women and children can go to the library?

Liberal-minded people want to be accommodating, especially in the aftermath of an attack such as the one we just had, but how far do you take your desire for better integration and acceptance? How much is too much to ask for a host country?

 Law Against Conspicuous Religious Signs in Schools

On this matter Patrick and Annie don’t remember exactly what the law said, Annie says it was a mistake to ask for removal of religious signs (it would have been better to ban face coverings on security grounds), Patrick says that people would have seen through that and that it was couched in terms of security also. Here’s what the law actually says:

« Art. L. 141-5-1. – Dans les écoles, les collèges et les lycées publics, le port de signes ou tenues par lesquels les élèves manifestent ostensiblement une appartenance religieuse est interdit.
Le règlement intérieur rappelle que la mise en oeuvre d’une procédure disciplinaire est précédée d’un dialogue avec l’élève.

In Elementary Schools, Junior Schools, and public High Schools, the wearing of symbols or clothing by which students conspicuously indicate their religious belief is prohibited. According to the rules of procedure, disciplinary action will not be taken until a dialog has been established with the student.

French legislators went directly to the issue of religion because that’s where French people think you draw the line. A person’s religion should have no impact on others. And yet, we are seeing more Kosher Restaurants, grocery stores, same with Halal and it can rub some French people the wrong way. These manifestations of difference go against the idea that we are all children of the Republic.

Conclusion: Making Sense of Terror Attacks in France

Hopes and Guesses About the Future

On the tech side, Patrick fears that bad decisions will be made pertaining to cryptography and back-doors. Recently the US government has decided that requiring back-doors is not effective. It appears that the perpetrators of the terrorist attack in Paris used non-encrypted text messages.

Patrick hopes that France will send the message loud and clear that we’re not going to take this from groups of extreme religious fanatics while at the same time sending the message that Islam is a part of France just like any other religion.  He also hopes that we’ll be more accepting of people named Mohamed or Abdoul be just as French as we are. That some guys named Charles is dark-skinned, etc. But at the same time it has to be extremely clear that you cannot come to France and preach in a French Mosque that music is a tool of the devil and has to be disallowed.

We both hope that we’ll be more accepting of the great majority of Muslims who don’t want to hurt us while at the same time coming down like a ton of bricks on the few who do. French people should learn not to push their buttons and they should learn not to push ours. We know for sure that terrorists want to divide us and we need to make sure that we don’t do that.







Paris Highlights You Can See in One Day, Episode 90

Eiffel Tower photo gckwolfe
Photo gckwolfe

On today’s episode Annie answers the following questions:

  1. What are Paris highlights you can see in one day?
  2. What are the must-sees in Paris?
  3. What should you not miss on your first visit or if you only have one day to spend in Paris?
  4. How do you get a “feel” for Paris in one day?
  5. Should you stay away from “touristy” places?
  6. What are the places you should AVOID if you only have one day in Paris?
  7. What about people who spend one day in Paris with a child?
  8. What about photography buffs?
  9. What if you really want to practice your French?
  10. Why are French museums a bit difficult for most people?

Related Topic: Layover in Paris

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Show Notes
[4:52] Why you can’t go to a museum in France and expect that it will be self-explanatory or that signs will be in English. Why so many people visit a French museum and get little out of it.

[6:42] What people who don’t like “touristy” should do instead of going to Paris.

[7:22] If it is your first time in Paris and you only have one day, this is what I would do:Early morning: Walk around the Île de la Cité (if you want to see where the rich and famous live) or around the Latin Quarter.

[7:44] French Tip of the Week:  have a “croissant”, or maybe a “pain au chocolat” or “chocolatine” as we call those in the south of France. In France we don’t order “Latte” we order “café au lait”. Au you will not get a gallon size drink, we drink small coffees in France!

[10:45] Why you should visit Notre Dame. Consider going up the Notre Dame tower if the line for tickets isn’t too long, you need some exercise, or you love to take pictures. From up there you see the gargoyles up close and get gorgeous views.

[12:05] Bathroom and WiFi behind Notre Dame.

[13:05] Notre Dame is a classy Cathedral. What do I mean by that?

[15:32] Where you buy tickets to go up the tower at Notre Dame and why you should walk up the tower if the line is short.

[17:42] Lunch near Notre Dame. If you can afford it, don’t go cheap on the lunch and definitely have some wine with your lunch because you’re in France and that’s what we do! If you want to not spend too much on wine, ask for “un pichet de vin” which means you’ll get the house wine. Not all restaurants have a house wine.

[19:57] Sainte Chapelle, go especially if there are sun rays coming out. You’ve seen stained glass windows before, but you haven’t seen those!

[21:00] I recommend Notre Dame and Sainte Chapelle because you don’t need to know anything about those places to enjoy how beautiful they are.

[21:22] Concerts at the Sainte Chapelle. Small ensemble plays approachable music.

[23:30] If you still have some time, take a ride on the Bateaux Mouches. You’ll get to go closer to the Eiffel Tower which is gorgeous and such a symbol of modernity and France.

[38:38] If you want to seep Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Art, go to the Musée d’Orsay. You can see it all in a day and if that’s what you’ve been looking forward to for a long time, it’s beautiful.

Not Worth it IF You Only Have One Day

[26:30] Montmartre / Sacré Coeur. Too crowded, too touristy in a cheap kind of way, the church is really spectacular on the outside, but once you’re inside it’s very dark. It feels like a pilgrimage church where you’re surrounded by believers who don’t take kindly to your camera and casual manner around religious beliefs. And when you walk around Montmartre you see way too much in the way of plastic souvenirs for my taste. There are some good and even ethnic restaurants there, so if that’s what brings you to the area, it makes sense to go.

[29:00] If you only have one day, don’t take the underground or RER to go all the way to the Eiffel Tower because it’s far away and will take you far from most of the other things you want to see. [29:33] Big museums like the Louvre, love it, but you could spend your whole day there and only see 1/10th of it! The Louvre is great if you have a week in Paris, not if you just have the one day.

One Day in Paris With Children

[30:34] What if You have one day in Paris and you are there with children? I would go to the Catacombs because that is the one thing they will remember from Paris. They would forget most other places you may take them in Paris, but they won’t forget the Catacombs.

[32:20] Arc de Triomphe / Champs Elysées. Not a good choice if you only have one day. Why? I don’t like the feel of it. Lots of cars and lots of expensive stores, many of them chain stores that you’ll find anywhere. Two good reasons to go anyway: 1. You love shopping or 2. You want to see how crazy the traffic is on the Étoile roundabout from above. This is an old style roundabout with right hand-side priority which makes it a mess.

[34:10] Another place I would not go if were only in Paris for one day is Père Lachaise. I love the place, but it’s out-of-the-way, not appropriate for one day in Paris.

[34:45] If you are NOT up to walking a lot, take the bus. You could choose a hop-on-hop-off bus, but city buses work too. Some people list the Paris Métro as one of the highlights. Yes, some metro stations are nice, but if you’re only there for one day, don’t spend it in a tunnel!

One Day in Paris for a Photographer

[35:23] What if you’re a photographer and you’re in Paris for one day? Top spots for Paris cityscape photography:

  • Eiffel Tower (with some caveats explained on the show)
  • Notre Dame bell tower
  • Montparnasse Tower
  • Institut du Monde Arabe (going to the 8th floor terrace is free, greats views of Notre Dame and Le Marais)
One Day in Paris to Practice Your French

If you mostly want to use your French for your one day in Paris, then it makes sense to go to less “touristy” places. One good place would be to go to a market. There are open-air and covered markets all over Paris. French site that lets you search for markets open right now (ouvert maintenant) or by arrondissement (area) or by type of market.

Paris Hightlights Sainte Chapelle
The Sainte Chapelle


Looking for Unique Experiences in France, Episode 86

Looking for Unique Experiences in France
Janice at the Marathon du Médoc with the Flash Gordon runners

Janice is a retired (How is that even possible? Look at her!) Elementary School Principal who has a passion for France and has visited so many times I declare her to be an honorary local. When she’s not driving around France she’s working on her second passion, a travel website called France Travel Tips. In this episode we talk about the many unique experiences she’s had in France and some of the great tips she can share with us to help us have a better time in France AND save some money along the way!

Would you like to tour France with Annie and Elyse? Visit Addicted to France to choose an upcoming tour.

Places Mentioned on the Show: Pauillac, Marathon du Médoc, Marathon de Paris, Gordes, École des Trois Ponts in Riorges, the restaurant Troigros in Roanne, Music at the Sainte Chapelle, Music at Église Saint Germain des Près , Patricia Kaas concert Nancy, Olympia Concert Hall in Paris, Saint Malo, Biarritz, Saint Sébastien, Saint Jean de Luz, Toulouse, Albi, Carcassonne, Provence, restaurant La Truie qui Doute in Anduze, Saint Antonin Noble Val, Eiffel Tower, Pont de Bir-Hakeim, Collias, Pont du Gard, Inisttut du Monde Arabe
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Janice Tells Us About Her Two Marathon in France

  • Marathon du Médoc (see photo above with the Flash Gordon runners)
  • Marathon de Paris

The Médoc and Paris Marathons are very different, Janice explains what she liked in both. To run a marathon in France you need to get a doctor’s certificate that will state that you are fit enough to participate.

Studying French at the École des Trois Ponts in Riorges where she particularly enjoyed the informal conversations and the cooking classes.

Making Macarons at the Cordon Bleu with a teacher who only speaks French (translator provided) and helps the students make their own.

Janice also loves Angelina’s Hot Chocolate on rue de Rivoli, it’s topped with whipped cream, but it’s OK because she runs marathons the rest of the time!

Listening to Music in Paris at the Sainte Chapelle where she heard the Four Seasons. You can see the beautiful stained glass and hear approachable music at the same time. Janice also attended a concert at the Église Saint Germain des Près. To find more concerts in France go to a FNAC store or the ticket office at any large grocery store.

Side note on how Casinos in France have strict entry rules. You need ID to enter and Annie explains why.

Janice goes through a typical day for her in France. She likes to rent a Gîte from Gîtes de France or HomeAway, she likes to go to the market in the morning, go to a café, go visit a town and explore, take some photos, go to a restaurant, enjoy some wine (a pichet of wine).  We explain how restaurants often do not want to substitute anything for the wine that comes with the meal.

Driving in France: Janice got two speeding tickets on her last trip from radars, once for going 7 over the speed limit. Annie got one for going 3 over the speed limit! Don’t speed in France! Also, how do you pay for a parking ticket in France? Janice explains because she had to do it! Use cruise control so you do not go over the speed limit and you’ll be fine.

Spending New Year’s Eve in Paris and a typical meal for Holidays in France. The Eiffel Tower is blocked off but you can have a spectacular view of the light show from the bridge called Pont de Bir-Hakeim. Another Paris tip: you can get a great view onto Notre Dame and the Seine Lookingfrom the Institut du Monde Arabe.  Going to the top is free!