After Paris Attacks: Fear and Defiance Dominate Young French Generation

Vicky Ge Huang

People lay flowers and light candles at the Place de la République in Paris

Like most people, 22-year-old Morgane Hamon learned of the November 13th terrorist attacks in Paris through social media. Hamon, an exchange student from Paris currently studying at The New York University Institute of Fine Arts, logged onto Facebook at 4:30 p.m. on Friday the 13th after an entire day of broken Wi-Fi at the school. She found a newsfeed filled with distressing alerts. Trying to figure out what was going on, she went on the website of the French newspaper Libération. There, reading a live timeline documenting the series of mass shootings and suicide bombings ravaging the city, Hamon began to grasp the gravity of the situation.

Unlike the Charlie Hebdo attack back in January that specifically targeted journalists and cartoonists, these coordinated attacks hit France and its young generation especially hard.

“As horrifying, as scary as it was, I didn’t feel that it could be me,” said Hamon during an interview, “but on Friday the 13th, I could have been at the Bataclan, I could have been drinking in a bar, I could have been eating at a restaurant with my friends, I definitely could have. And those arrondissements are the ones where I go often so it definitely could have been me.”

Set off on a Friday night at a theater, stadium, bars and restaurants where young people tend to congregate, the attacks have exerted a physical as well as emotional impact on the young generation in France. Solidarity in the face of terrorism rallies young people to go on with their lives as usual, but beneath the façade of defiance, fear has also seeped into the fabric of everyday life. Many can see themselves as having been one of the victims and struggle in anxious silence to cope.

Maeva Naili, a 21-year-old Master’s student majoring in cultural management and trilingual communication at Paris Diderot University, was watching the newly released 007 movie Spectre at Cinéma le Max Linder when her phone was deluged with her mother’s messages frantically inquiring about her safety. Naili said she initially took lightly of news about the shootings, thinking “things like this happens in Paris sometimes.” It was not until the sweeping teams of ambulances kept passing her by that she realized the severity of the situation. She could feel death in the air when she saw people behaving strangely and then running: “I started to panic and grab my boyfriend’s hand saying, ‘Oh my god, I don’t want to die,” she said. “We can’t die here, that’s not possible.’”

For 24-year-old Roxane Guignier who lives in the banlieue — the Parisian suburbs — the aftermath of the attacks feels ever more apparent. Guignier studies International Trade Negotiation at Paris Sorbonne Nouvelle and commutes to the city by train. Since the attacks, Guignier has felt unsafe going into Paris. The paranoia that’s part of everyday life now also perpetuates an atmosphere of fear: “In the train we were all paying attention to every single strange noise.”

The tragedy has also affected young French citizens across the globe, such as Dylane Urvoy, a 21-year-old student in Chinese and International Relations at INALCO, Paris, who is currently abroad in Taipei, Taiwan. Urvoy says she was with her Taiwanese host family in the city of Nantou for the weekend, and due to the time difference between Taiwan and France, the attacks happened early Saturday morning for her.

She found out about the attacks when she uploaded a picture to Facebook, only then seeing posts from friends that they were alright and messages like “There’s an attack in Paris” and “People died.” Urvoy had to calm herself and pretend that everything was okay, but she was really worried about her friend who had just moved to Paris two weeks prior. “She planned to go to the Bataclan on Friday but her friend couldn’t go. That’s why she’s still here,” Urvoy said, “she could be dead. From this day on, we Skype every day.”

Urvoy also feels like she could have been killed were she in Paris. She likes the band that was playing at Bataclan, the Eagles of Death Metal, and is sure that if she wasn’t in Taipei she would have gone to their show. “This is what is terrible about this attack,” Urvoy said. With Charlie Hebdo it was a targeted attack, “but this time it was just random people. Young people who just lived their lives like we do all the time.”

In the week following the attacks, Urvoy said she barely ate or slept and always kept up-to-date on news out of Paris. On the bright side, Urvoy jokes that at least she’s lost 1 kg, a small silver lining to a dark chapter for French youth.