French zen..and ice cream


Proof that one can grow - and learn - from the past, this weekend I was excited to find out that I could convert my CDC vaccination card to conform to the new Pass Sanitaire the French government rolled out, which as of now, is necessary if you want to go into museums and other government-run monuments…and starting in a few days, if you want to eat or drink at cafés and restaurants, or take a train within France. (You can take a Covid test and carry around those results and use those if they’re negative.) The government knew exactly what was most important to French people - cafés and vacations - and while not everyone is pleased, c’est comme ça.

The Pass Sanitaire is part of the Anti-Covid app and once vaccinated, you get a scannable QR code on your phone that ostensibly you’ll be able to show employees at restaurants, train stations, and so forth, to gain admittance. Right now there is a paper of some sort to show at the airport if you arrive but several recently-arrived friends have told me no one asked them to produce that document, and they went right through. So we’ll see how the passes (or test results) go. Several friends who have restaurants in Paris have told me they have no idea either how they are going to monitor that as everyone who works for them already has their hands full.

As a good citoyen, and a survivor of the previous pandemic, I want to conform to the protocols, but couldn’t upload the QR code I got from being vaxed in the States to the French app in the comfort of ma maison.


But a hopeful post online popped up the other day that told me it’d be a snap to convert my U.S. card and its QR code, to a French one, which didn’t work out the way it did for the author of the post. As advised, yesterday I went to the vaccination center at the Hôtel de Ville (the main city hall in Paris) which was bustling with people lined up to get vaccinations. The author of the post (who is a friend of mine, and was just reporting from their experience) said to talk to one of the nice folks there and expect to be in and out within 10 minutes. Yay! Soon I’d be all set!

But, nope.

Paris is composed of twenty arrondissements, and since France is a country of fonctionnaires (public employees), each neighborhood has their very own city hall with their own staff. The folks who work at my city hall are very nice and helpful, belying the reputation of the French. (However no one, French or otherwise, is eager to go to the prefecture on the Île-de-la-Cité, where people go to get visas renewed and engage in other less-fun activities. They’re rather stern over there.) But on a more local level, everyone is friendly and does their best to help the public.

I learned a lesson many years ago when I had to get official pictures to attach to an official government document, which need to conforme aux normes, which means they need to be a certain size, taken from a certain angle, and you can’t crack even the slightest bit of a smile. If there are any teeth showing, or you show any sign of being happy (or have hipster glasses), your photo will get rejected. Here are some dos and don’ts…

Fortunately, the machines where you take official photos give you several tries to get it right, because for me, it’s impossible not to smile and I end up looking like I just choked down a raw salmon head while looking straight-on at the camera.

To get pictures, a few years back I went to Monoprix, a supermarket/department store chain with stores across France that try their best to be hip. There’s a photo machine in each store, which one needs exact change for, which is extremely valuable in France. I went to several cashiers to ask for a few of their precious coins to use the machine and was sent round and round, from one cashier to another, each in a different part of the store. (No, their stores are not circular, but sometimes they feel that way when you’re trying to find something. I’m sorry but I still feel that the canned tomatoes belong in the tomato sauce aisle, not the canned vegetable aisle.) Alas, no one would break a €5 note and give me five €1 coins, including the one “special” cash register they had in the store that would allow the cashier to give change. (I’ve learned where to find canned tomatoes, but having just one cashier who can give change will always be a new one on me…)

Exasperated, I headed down to the supermarket in the basement and made a purchase to get change. When the cashier handed me back bills, and a few tiny centimes, I asked if she could give me €1 coins instead for the machine, at which point she slammed the drawer shut and told me she didn’t have any change, while the noise of all the change being jostled around the drawer could still be heard in the background. The French guy behind me got a laugh out of it - because, honestly…what else can you do?

When I got home, Romain told me that I just should have gone into the métro stations, where they also have photo machines, and the people there will gladly give you change. I didn’t believe him since public servants in France aren’t always known for being the most accomodating, but they were (and are), and I got my change for the photos. (Unfortunately one stereotype about France that is true is that when a machine is broken, no one is racing to fix it. All the photo machines in the métro stations around me were en panne, or out of order.)


It was pretty hot yesterday, a Saturday, when I hoofed it over to the Hôtel de Ville to get my code. The day before, on Friday, I decided that maybe I’d head over to the vaccination center at the city hall in the 3rd arrondissement, which is quick 15 minutes walk from chez moi. When I asked about converting my CDC card to a French QR code, the folks at the desk looked at me as if I’d asked them which métro station was the closest that would take me to Mars. Indeed, they told me, I needed to go to the Hôtel de Ville vaccination center.

“Pas ici, monsieur,” said the young man in the white vest that said Assistance, which turned out to only be partially true. “Not here.” The poor fellow in front of the Hôtel de Ville vax center was being barraged by questions in French and in English. He was very nice, in spite of his lot in life that particular day. I’ve been here long enough to know that non doesn’t necessarily mean non. But in this case, after insisting that I could, I realized that I couldn’t. I decided to cool myself off (mentally and physically) with a scoop of dark chocolate sorbet at the nearby La Glacerie de Paris, before heading home.

What the boule de sorbet actually did, though, was give me the courage to return, which I did.

When you hear “non” in France, sometimes you just need to ask someone else, which I did. A young man with a Red Cross shirt was hovering far enough away from the other guy (who admittedly, was tangled up with some other confused individuals), but when asked, told me the same thing. Like the young man before him, directed me to go to the city hall back in the 3rd arrondissement, the one I’d been to the day before where they said Non, too.

I think that Paris is intentionally designed as a spiral because you’re often directed to go back to where you came from. I said I wasn’t going back, so he told me that I could also go to the Porte de Versailles, the 216,000 square meter (about a mile) convention center that’s a conglomeration of buildings located on the very fringe of Paris. Aside from the fact that there’s probably no ice cream out there, it was a major expedition and one that I suspected was going to have me directed right back to where I was now standing.


Bref is a très courant word you use when you want to change the subject. If your ear isn’t tuned to French, you may miss it. But suffice it to say, I decided to head back home once and for all. Before I did, there was a young American man outside the vaccination center on vacation, who said he was turned away from a museum with his U.S. CDC card. After talking his options through (I wasn’t going to send him out to the sprawling Porte de Versailles on his vacation…) we decided that he was only here 3 more days and to not spend them on a wild goose chase, a phrase my French dictionary doesn’t have a translation for, but probably should. There were plenty of other things to do we agreed.

During my expedition, I posted some highlights of the day in my Instagram Stories and the next 24 hours was an onslaught of messages from people, many were about their tries and fails, with some successes. A few others said the museums they went to allowed them in with a CDC card. I did tell that young man to go back later and see if someone else was at the door. But suspect he had had enough and should just enjoy Paris, and stay outdoors.

Like some of my IG followers suggested, France24, an official television station of France, reported that you may be able to convert your CDC vaccination card to QR codes at pharmacies, even though the U.S. Embassy in France had more cautious words.

Of the people DMing me about pharmacies in Paris that would or could generate the QR code, many (including my sister) sent me links to a well-known Instagrammer in Paris who got hers at a pharmacy that was charging €20 to do the deed. Like giving change in the métro station and directing people around town to other vaccination centers, one of the benefits of having an accessible public health service is that it’s not about money. The overall mindset is different.

Consequently, I was a little surprised to hear they were charging to do it. When I told another French/American friend who has lived here for a long time, who was also looking to get a French QR code, that a pharmacy was charging to generate the QR codes, she replied “That sounds sketchy.” But…bref, whatever works, I guess.

(My pharmacist stared at my CDC card for a moment and shook his head from side to side, before handing it back to me with an apology for not knowing anything about it.)

I’m a little concerned for incoming tourists as France has welcomed them to come and wants to give them a bon accueil, a nice welcome. I don’t think they want them to arrive to closed doors. So hopefully this’ll get straightened out soon. Much of this is uncharted territory for everyone and there are bound to be snarls and snags before it gets resolved and I’m not worried. Americans are used to things going a certain way and while the French government had to quickly backtrack on the program to give free PCR and antigen Covid tests to travelers, which lasted about a week before they backpedaled, I’m confident they’ll find a solution to this one.

While I’m counting on that to happen, I’m being très zen, as they say, and will try again next week. If I’m not successful, there’s always ice cream. The shop I went to had a lot more flavors on offer that looked interesting. But while I’d like to give them all a try, I hope that I don’t have to.

Like this newsletter post? Subscribe at the link above!