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Mary Goode: French say they don’t hold any grudges on $90bn sub snub

The Eiffel Tower looks down upon the Australian embassy on this grey Autumn day. It seems to be a symbol of the political tensions between France and Australia.

After Australia announced the cancellation of the $90billion French submarine contract, the political silence from Paris towards Canberra was obvious. The French Ambassador was recalled from Australia in protest. He has since returned. Leaders of both countries only broke their silence with a phone call this week.

Talking with locals on the streets of Paris, they are aware of the submarine deal cancellation, but hold no grudges with Australia and its people.

On a cool Sunday evening, on a busy footpath lined with restaurants in the Marais area, The West Australian met two Parisian locals, Pascal and Nathalie, who said the abolished deal was “not fair” but said they still love Australia.

“I am a Rugby fan so of course I love Australia, and she (Nathalie) is a koala fan. It’s an incredible country. It’s a very beautiful country. We must appreciate Australia,” Pascal said.

It was the same message in other conversations with Paris locals.

Sitting on a park bench in the Jardine des Plantes, Louise said the decision to cancel the submarine deal was taken “rapidly”, and was “not really kind”. But it hasn’t changed her view of Australia.

“I know it’s a decision that was not made by Australians,” she adds.

Paris resident Landry says this will not affect the French view of Australians. But says “it’s not fair to tell someone that you have a deal and then at the last moment you say no to that person.”

“This is two countries with a huge historical link. So I don’t think the tense relationship will last,” he says.

An Australian cafe owner in the Vaugirard region of Paris says he hasn’t experienced animosity. “The French are more worried about who won the rugby than a submarine deal,” Fox McInerney says.

Australia’s international borders are starting to reopen. Border relaxation comes 20 months since Australia introduced some of the world’s strictest COVID-19 border rules.

Sipping on coffee outside his cafe, Mr McInerney, who owns Good News Cafe, says Australians and their coffee have a great reputation in Paris.

He says Parisians will be “grateful” to get Australians and tourists from other countries returning after a low summer tourist season last year.

More than 80 million tourists usually visit France in a year. French Tourism Minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne told Sud Radio he hopes to get half of that this year.

As Australians start to explore the world again, they are likely to find Paris is different to what they remember.

At the Louvre museum for instance, the 500-year-old face of Mona Lisa stares out between signs reminding visitors to social distance, wash hands, and to not hug.

Kim Ladone moved from Sydney to Paris eight years ago, and says new requirements make it harder to access culture.

“You need your pre-booked ticket, your vaccine pass and the mask. So that means if you’re coming to Paris you better try to pre-plan the museums you really want to see and pick your timeslots. I’d say it’s destroyed spontaneity,” she says.

But she says the changes in Paris over the past two years are not all bad. “Anyone who has been to Paris might remember that the restaurants are really squashy, space is at a premium and you’re often sitting right next to your neighbour, almost eating with your neighbour,” Ms Ladone says.

“Now restaurants are allowed to expand and take over outside spaces, for much more outdoor dining.”

The European Travel Commission’s Australia chapter chair Sofia Hansson says Australians tend to plan six months in advance to travel to Europe. She says Australians could head to Europe for the 2022 European summer.

As the world starts to reopen, Kim Ladone says the return of tourists brings another change.

“For more than a year, the absence of tourists meant you heard only French in the streets. Paris became a French city again. Paris with no tourists was a really odd experience. And I didn’t realise it until they disappeared.”

Mary Goode is an Australian journalist living abroad. She has reported in WA, Canberra, San Francisco and now Switzerland.

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