It’s about 9pm on a very warm summer night and I’m taking Milo out for a stroll around the village. We’re in St Paul de Vence. The lights are twinkling in the valley beneath the ancient ramparts and the moon is perched over the coast towards Nice. There are far less tourists than normal and at this time of the evening we have the place pretty much to ourselves. But as I near the entry to the village I hear music and laughter. It’s Friday and the shops and art galleries are open late, trying to drum up a bit of trade. Turning the corner I am surprised to see a gathering of elegantly dressed people drinking and chatting outside one of the galleries. The terrace of Le Tilleul restaurant is packed as usual. There’s a singer/sax player knocking out a very cool Sinatra riff.
And now I have to spoil it all by saying something stupid like “what about social distancing?” The only people wearing masks are the waiters, weaving their way towards the tables on the terrace. If these tables are set out to prevent Covid transmission I’d hate to see them in a normal summer. Meanwhile at the party on the pavement (which I have to say looks like a lot of fun) everyone is chatting and laughing at normal distances from each other. Milo and I wait for a gap to appear and weave through the throng like a pair of disapproving maiden aunts (except Milo just had to sniff around a couple of fifi frou frou mini-dogs dangling from the tanned arm of a blonde in a maxi dress. I’ve told him before not to get so intimate).
Am I just a paranoid Englishman abroad? Is this the French giving Covid the Gallic shoulder shrug? Is this a case of style and insouciance trumping safety? I mean, supposing anyone of these well-heeled al fresco socialites has a son or a daughter who attended the mass DJ party on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice the other week where over 5000 partied maskless? Younger people, understandably fed up with confinement and at much less risk of serious illness, are making up for lost time as a heatwave blankets Europe. According to reports Covid is now spreading faster amongst young people, often asymptomatic. Personally I’m not letting the laid-back Riviera vibe and soft summer nights change my view of risk, however much I’d love to have a glass of wine and join the party.
The Eurotunnel terminal in Folkestone is fully Covid prepared. Masks are obligatory of course. There’s an efficient one way system. So far so good. On the autoroute the service stations required you to wear a mask and most people did, but still there were people not bothering or even more bizarrely carrying a mask in their hand but not wearing it – mostly Frenchmen of a certain age I have to say. Since then it is now law (since the 20th July) to wear a mask in shops or public places so I assume those people would now have to make the enormous effort of actually putting the mask on.
In larger stores like Leroy Merlin or in supermarkets the compliance now appears to be universal. At our local supermarket in Vence there are signs everywhere and the security guard stands at the entrance to enforce the regulations (something stores in the UK are loath to do).
By contrast, the other day I rented a van to clear out a garage and the people in the car hire outlet were maskless (or even more stupid, the mask worn but dropped below the mouth) chatting away with customers who were wearing masks!
We are in the market for a small city car and the car dealership salespeople, all under 30, don’t seem to bother with masks at all, unless you ask them. I sat in a small office with my mask on and the pleasant young woman opposite had her mask dangling from the window handle. Maybe she thought that was close enough for safety purposes. They clearly think it’s not cool to wear a mask. Perhaps it’s because they are fashion conscious and the French all wear the blue disposable masks which look like something that would match a hospital gown. You‘d think that designer masks would be de rigeur in the fashion conscious Côte d’Azur.
So my advice is, come and have a lovely holiday in France. Rent a place in the countryside, stay safe, stick to your routines. Don’t be lulled into being too relaxed just because the sun is shining, the rosé is chilled, and some of the locals are evidently too laissez-faire for their own good.