Expats deluged with worried calls from home

14th November 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Nov 13 (AFP) - When American Katherine Krieger, a long-time resident of Paris, heard the panicky voice of her mother calling from the United States last week, she knew what was coming.

PARIS, Nov 13 (AFP) - When American Katherine Krieger, a long-time resident of Paris, heard the panicky voice of her mother calling from the United States last week, she knew what was coming.

Seemingly uncontrollable rioting in dozens of public housing projects ringing the French capital -- in their tenth day by then -- was the top news story around the world.

Mommy dearest was worried sick.

"CNN says Paris is burning! Are you safe?," her mother blurted out, Krieger recalls with a laugh.

What Krieger found amusing was neither the situation in France -- which remains very tense, despite a diminishing level of nightly violence -- nor her mother's genuine anguish.

It was, rather, the glaring gap between the impression her mother formed watching US broadcast and cable news coverage of the riots, on the one hand, and the reality on the ground in the city of Paris itself, on the other.

"I was sitting in my apartment with the window open while talking to her, it was calm and quite," Krieger said. "Honestly, here in Paris -- if you didn't read a paper or watch TV -- you wouldn't necessarily know anything unusual was going on."

Indeed, with the exception of a few torched cars in the Marais district and near République square, the city's most popular spot for protest demonstrations, Paris has remained eerily business-as-usual during the more than two weeks of what the French media has taken to calling "the troubles."

In a bid to keep things that way, police invoked on Saturday emergency powers to ban public meetings in Paris over the weekend, and reinforced patrols throughout the city. But these were announced as precautionary measures.

The chasm between image and reality, reflected in the thousands of phone calls and emails that have poured into Paris from concerned relatives and friends abroad, reveals two underlying truths, an informal canvassing of foreign residents in Paris suggests.

One is the power of violent and fiery television images -- along with a lack of precision in the reporting that accompanies them -- to shape viewers perceptions.

"What they see on TV is somehow worse than what is here," says American Kathleen de Carbuccia, another long-time Paris resident who has gotten a lot of phone calls from overseas.

American Bob Bishop, editor of Parisvoice.com, a lifestyle and community website for expats in Paris, said his entire staff had all been contacted by folks in the United States "imagining that we are in trouble."

At the Paris campus of New York-based Parsons School of Design where Bishop teaches, foreign students -- no matter where they were from -- got panicky calls from home.

"One student said her parents -- despite reassurances -- were calling every four hours," Bishop said.

And at the Sorbonne's French Presse Institute, several foreign students said that the word coming up most often in calls from home was "revolution".

Foreign reporting has not been clear enough, Krieger conjectured, on exactly which areas have been affected by the rioting, and which have not.

"They have not opened the window wide enough," she said, showing images only of hot-spot housing projects but talking in general about "the suburbs."

Calling the riots -- as did a number of American media -- the "worst urban violence in France since World War II," in the words of a recent Wall Street Journal editorial, also helps reinforce the idea of a generalized mayhem in France's largest cities, other foreign residents noted.

Two weeks of sustained rioting have resulted in one death -- a 61-year-old man died from head injuries after being pushed violently to the ground -- and more than 100 injuries, some of them serious.

By comparison, the student and worker protests of May 1968 left several dead and hundreds injured, and provoked the dissolution of France's national assembly.

But the second, arguably more profound, truth underlying the gap between perceptions abroad of incipient revolution and the tranquility of France's inner cities is social and demographic.

"The fact that things have been as calm as they have been in Paris really does show that there are two different worlds here," Krieger said. "It seems that they do not often intersect."

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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