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The Scene In Paris: Fewer Tourists, More Armed Guards

French police patrol near the Eiffel Tower in Paris on Monday. France is the most-visited country in the world, but the number of tourists has dropped off since the Nov. 13 attacks that killed 130 people.
Jacques Brinon

Juliet Bartz, a 20-year-old New Yorker who is studying in Paris for a semester, sneaks out of her apartment for an interview on the street.

"It feels nice to walk around," she says. "Because I've just been cooped up all day. My roommates and I are packing up everything and coordinating our flights. It's kind of a domino effect. We're all kind of influenced by each other's fear."

Her program kept them indoors during last week's police raids. Now classes have resumed, but Bartz, 20, who calls herself a "9/11 kid," is cutting short her stay in Paris a month early. Many of her classmates are, too.

"For a lot of French people, it's so upsetting, but this is their home. This is where they live. Life goes on," she says. "But for us, we have one month left here. It's not going to be normal by the time we leave. So is it worth staying in a Paris that requires us to be indoors? And not do the things that we came to do?"

Like going to museums and the Eiffel Tower — which have now reopened, but remain under armed guard. To go Christmas shopping, you face airportlike security checks at department stores. Two big Paris chains say they've suffered a 30 percent to 50 percent drop in sales.

Many Cancellations

France is the most-visited country in the world, with more than 80 million foreign visitors annually, but large numbers of tourists have canceled trips to France in the 10 days since the Nov. 13 Paris attacks. Big conventions have been postponed. Music acts like U2 have canceled concerts.

Fewer tourists than usual are showing up for a bike tour called Paris Charms & Secrets. The company usually does three tours a day. Now it's down to one.

"We had loads and loads of cancellations," says the tour company's founder, Olivier Marie-Antoine. His office is 500 yards from the Bataclan, the music hall where scores of people were killed.

"Two of our guides went to do the whole tour to see if was safe or not. Police were everywhere, everywhere in Paris," says Marie-Antoine. "So I'm not saying things could not happen. But there's a huge amount of police and army. And we avoid places where it's crowded."

That includes hotels and restaurants on Paris' most famous avenue, the Champs-Elysees.

Pascale Lornzene hired an armed guard to man the door of the restaurant he manages. He says reservations are down 10 percent to 20 percent. Hotels and airlines report similar losses.

"It's the same thing everywhere. Lunchtime is for business, and they have to do business. For dinnertime, it's worse. People are a little bit afraid," he says.

He says he thinks it reminds them too much of the night 130 people were killed — some on cafe terraces.

Outside, a couple of Mexican honeymooners browse the menu. They've got their choice of empty restaurants.

"It seems so quiet," says Alejandra Ribera, on her first trip to Paris. She says she's a little frightened.

But her husband, Gil Manuel, interrupts. "We're going to the Eiffel Tower tonight," he says. "And we might even have the place to ourselves."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.
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