“The unvaccinated, I really want to piss them off. And so we’re going to continue doing so until the end. That’s the strategy,” Macron told Le Parisien newspaper in an interview published late Tuesday.
The French expression Macron actually used – “emmerder“, literally, to put in the “merde” (shit) – can also mean to bother or cause trouble for someone (embêter), according to French dictionary Larousse.
His comments came as the government debates legislation that would make it mandatory for people to show proof of being vaccinated – and not just a negative Covid test or proof of having recovered from coronavirus – to access most public venues and transport.
The French president’s blunt statement prompted a round of breathless media coverage in France and beyond. Presidential challengers on both left and right emerged to condemn his choice of phrase. But none were more troubled than the unvaccinated themselves, who heard in his words a warning that their lives were about to become even more difficult.
Everyone FRANCE 24 spoke to – all of whom only agreed to speak using a pseudonym – said their lives had become more difficult since Macron introduced the health pass last summer. Most are now also contemplating getting vaccinated to make things easier, lending some credence to the idea that Covid restrictions might win over at least some of the vaccine hesitant.
“Emilie”, 38, self-employed: ‘I’m in good health, and I tell myself that my body can take on Covid’
“I never had a health pass except a couple of times. Once I had to take a free PCR test because I was in contact with a Covid case. The negative result gave me a pass for 72 hours so I took the opportunity to go to a bar. Before that, I used my mum’s pass a few times to go out for a coffee – but I stopped that when a waiter noticed that the date of birth on there wasn’t right. I got scared; a €750 fine for using a fake pass is quite a deterrent.
But in any case, I had stopped going out much since the first lockdown for financial reasons. I can’t afford to go to a restaurant or the cinema anymore. My budget for outings is €5 a month. So I think for someone who can afford to go out, they have much more of an incentive to get a jab.
I can do without those small pleasures. Instead I ride my bike, I go walking in the forest, I go to my friends’ houses and I have them over at mine. I got an antigen test from the pharmacy last September when you could still get reimbursed by social security even if you weren’t vaccinated. I went to see a movie at the cinema. Then I stopped taking what I thought of as ‘comfort tests’.
Sometimes things become a bit tense between my boyfriend and me. He wants us to be able to go to the cinema or out for a drink whenever we want.
A lot of people thought this pandemic would just be temporary – and I’m one of them. I’m young, I’m in good health, and I tell myself that my body can take on Covid. I follow public health measures even more strictly than people who’ve been vaccinated. But if the whole thing drags on – if in three years’ time I still have to get a health pass to sit at a café – I might change my mind.”
“Julien”, computer programmer: ‘I’m not against the vaccine, per se, if we make one that’s been tested’
“I didn’t get the vaccine. I’ve never had Covid – and I don’t try to cheat the system. I just decided to follow the rules and accept the consequences. I’m not the type to go to the cinema or to a restaurant. I’d rather cook at home instead.
Since Omicron arrived, I’ve been even less tempted to go to crowded places. I don’t have more than four friends over at any one time; I’m very cautious.
Sport is the only thing I miss. I used to swim and climb – but I haven’t been able to go back to those clubs since the pandemic started. Over time I’ve had to learn to exercise differently, to do it on my own. Since I can’t exercise indoors, I do it outside. And I like it.
During the Christmas season, I couldn’t go and see my mum and dad because I can only go via long-distance train – and that requires a health pass. I would have had to travel on Christmas Day, when pharmacies are closed, so it wouldn’t have been possible to get a negative test to get a temporary pass.
One day this will all be over. I’m not against the vaccine, per se, if we make one that’s been tested over the long term and under safe conditions. I hope the government isn’t going to impose the vaccine pass on foreign travel, because so far a negative antigen test is enough so I didn’t need the health pass to leave the country.
It would seem almost like a hostage situation if I couldn’t leave the country anymore, because I really love travelling. So if the restrictions become too much, I’d see that as an opportunity to move to another country.”
“Cathy”, 34, former nurse: ‘I felt judged by my then colleagues’
“I couldn’t use a fake health pass on ethical grounds. And I don’t see the point of it. I have bigger priorities than going to a restaurant or to the cinema. I’ve been looking for a job and I’m starting to have trouble repaying a loan. I quit my job as a hospital nurse six months ago for a sales job that I didn’t like.
I only got a health pass once – last summer, when I had a test so I could take my children to Disneyland Paris. Otherwise I tend to have my friends come to my house to see me. Most of the time people are perfectly happy with that – and they themselves don’t take many risks.
But I felt judged by my then colleagues a few months ago. It was a work night out – all my colleagues were in a bar and I had to wait for them outside. They took a photo of me through the window and posted it on social media with the word “punished”. It was a joke. I didn’t take it the wrong way. But I still found it childish and low.
At Christmas my in-laws asked me not to come because I’m not vaccinated. My husband and kids went without me. But my in-laws are vaccinated, and the way I see it, the people who need to be the most careful are the unvaccinated. I respect hygiene measures even more scrupulously than they do. The company I worked for organised an event with more than 60 people in early December. I was one of a very few people who were wearing a mask; I was shocked.
I was very scared when the government raised the idea of making the health pass compulsory for workers. I had nightmares about it; I thought I’d never find a job. It’s already complicated because I can’t go back to work as a nurse as it takes at least four months to get fully vaccinated.” [Editor’s note: In fact, unvaccinated people in France can get two doses of a Covid jab 28 days apart.]
“But I promised myself that I wouldn’t get vaccinated and I want to stick to that.”
“Sonia”, 27, lawyer: ‘I’d prefer to wait and see what happens with the vaccine’
“I had Covid two months ago. I’m almost glad I had it because I wasn’t seriously ill and I got immunity. The immunity gave me a health pass, which I’ve had ever since.
Before, I used my sister’s. She lives in a different city. No one has ever checked my identity, neither in France nor in Italy, where I’ve been several times. Often, people don’t even ask me for the pass.
I didn’t want to get the vaccine because I thought this pandemic would eventually pass, because I don’t need it to work, and because I’d prefer to wait and see what happens with the vaccine. But if the same situation continues and the pass remains in effect, I’ll probably get vaccinated when my health pass expires.”
“Soraya”, 63, childminder: ‘A lot of my friends live parallel lives’
“Covid has never scared me and I avoid wearing a mask as much as possible. I have to wear one in shops. But it’s annoying when I babysit. I don’t impose mask-wearing on parents who come to pick up their children.
I tried to do without the health pass during the first few months; I was proud of myself. I didn’t go to restaurants or to the cinema – but I started to miss them pretty quickly. I borrowed a friend’s pass; the only problem was that she was born in 1996. I was flattered that no one noticed – I went to the local library and to the cinema.
One day the manager of a restaurant said there was a mistake in my pass. Well he lost a customer, because I’ll never set foot in there again. Since then another friend has lent me her pass for when I want to go out.
A lot of my friends live parallel lives because of the health pass. I’d like to feel free in my own country. I think that – instead of forcing the vaccine on us – the government should increase hospital capacity and treat health workers better.
I’m reluctantly going to get the vaccine on Saturday because I have to go and visit family in Algeria. I haven’t seen them for a very long time, and because of the border closures I wasn’t able to go to my sister’s funeral. She died in 2020. It’s a very important trip for me and so I have no choice but to get vaccinated. I’m afraid that people will have to be vaccinated by the time I return to France, and I can’t afford to be stranded in Algeria.”