What It Was Like to Experience the Paris Attack, From a Student Who Lived Through It

The student that experienced the Paris Attack posing for a photo on a Paris street

The first attack we heard about was the shooting at Le Petit Cambodge, a popular Cambodian restaurant near the Canal Saint-Martin where I'd dined just two weeks before. I was at a dinner party in the 11th arrondissement with some other grad students when a friend texted to let us know he was OK. We quickly pulled up a livestream of the iTélé channel and found out about the explosions at the Stade de France. We heard the president was being evacuated out of the stadium. We were stunned.

Journalists weren't yet using the word terrorism, but we all assumed the incidents were linked. We feared it was connected to the Charlie Hebdo massacre. We called all our Parisian friends; surprisingly, many of them were completely unaware of the shooting and explosions. 

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Glued to our phones, we found out there was an ongoing hostage situation at the Bataclan. We learned about the shooting at the Belle Équipe, a restaurant on the Rue de Charonne only three minutes away from where we were. We finished our wine. I became acutely aware of the unending blare of sirens. Approaching the window, we noticed that almost all of the street-facing apartments had closed their curtains and turned off the lights. 

Shannon, the party host, then received a call from another friend who asked if he could come to her apartment. The bar near Bastille where he and six of his friends were taking refuge had decided to close. They were all stranded. They obviously felt unsafe wandering the streets, taxis were very hard to come by, and descending into the metro was a daunting prospect.

The terrorists had chosen to target popular spots with an unmistakably "bobo" (short for "bourgeois-bohème") clientèle.

I messaged friends who had headed to Canal Saint-Martin-area bars earlier in the night. They said the bars' general policy was to lower the metal curtain — telling patrons, stay inside or leave. Shannon welcomed them and offered them the rest of our dinner. We had all lost our appetites.

We started to get alerts from Facebook's Safety Check. It was extremely helpful. We'd all been getting nonstop calls and texts from worried friends and family.

As we waited for an update on the Bataclan police raid, the conversation turned to politics. The general consensus of our (almost entirely French) group was that the night's events would have a major impact on next month's regional elections and the 2016 presidential elections. The anti-immigrant, far-right National Front would surely gain a lot of support.

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Another topic of discussion was the location of the attacks. With the exception of the Stade de France, the terrorists had chosen to target popular spots with an unmistakably "bobo" (short for "bourgeois-bohème") clientèle. The term "bobo" refers to a set of (mostly white) upper-middle-class Parisian professionals generally passionate about art, restaurants, travel and progressive left-wing causes. The "bobo" is Paris' slightly more yuppie-inflected answer to the New York hipster.

We were all in Paris at the time of the Charlie Hebdo attacks (and the less-talked-about Kosher grocery store shootings) as well, but for many reasons the ongoing assault on Paris hit particularly close to home, so to speak, and not just because it was minutes away. If the Charlie Hebdo shooting was (at least nominally) a retaliation for blasphemous cartoons, last night's terrorist attacks felt like an attack on a specific way of life. Friday's victims had all been in the middle of enjoying a meal, having a glass of wine, catching up with friends or enjoying a concert before they lost their lives.

I got home at 3 a.m. The rest of the group slept at Shannon's. The streets were empty, but the sirens were still blaring.