Poop in the Seine, Packed Trains, Convoluted QR Codes — Is Paris Ready for the Olympics?

When the City of Paris first made its bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics, organizers promised free public transportation, the extension of several metro lines to accommodate crowds at stadiums outside of the city limits, and a pollution-free Seine open to hosting swimming events. Eight years later, with a few weeks left to go before the opening ceremony, virtually none of these promises have materialized: instead of free public transit, one-way metro tickets, which typically cost €2.10, will increase to €4. With the exception of metro line 14, which connects ORLY airport to the Athletes’ Village in Saint-Denis, none of the other promised lines will be extended in time for the Games. And as for the Seine, well — there’s a reason Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and French President Emmanuel Macron keep delaying their promises to swim in it.

Given the international attention and colossal investment involved in hosting the Olympics, it’s natural to cast a critical eye upon a host city’s preparedness. There’s almost a glee with which we anticipate the woeful tales shared by ticket holders who spent thousands of dollars to essentially be barricaded into a prison-like, QR code-controlled red zone. (The athletes are already complaining about a lack of amenities at the Village? Think of the memes!) Couple that with the natural pessimism of French society, and you’d be forgiven for thinking the Paris Games will be anything but a logistical nightmare. But are things as bad as they look?

“I’m less critical of the city’s readiness in terms of the train lines, and in terms of the temporary infrastructure and I am more concerned with, I guess, security issues and navigating the flow of people, and that they have rolled out these QR codes that apply to travelers and visitors, as well,” says Lindsey Tramuta, the dual-passport holding American author of several books about Paris, who has lived in the city since 2006.

In May, the government announced the creation of two “security perimeters” that will require special documents to access. The first, a gray perimeter, which runs along the Seine, will be closed entirely to vehicular traffic from July 18 to July 26 and will require a special QR code “digital pass” to access. Visitors with reason to enter the area (residents, those with dinner reservations, etc.) can apply online for the pass, which will only be issued after an “administrative investigation.” The other, the much larger “red zone,” encompasses the vast majority of Paris’s monuments; though a QR code will not be required to move freely in that zone, it will still be closed to motor vehicle traffic. 

This has made business particularly difficult for some companies whose clients exist within the red zone. Aurélien Birebent, a Paris resident and the co-founder of Arthylae, a sustainable luxury company, says he’s had immense difficulty arranging deliveries to his clients in the red zone. “It’s a huge deal right now for any business operating in Paris that it may be very complex to operate and deliver things,” Birebent says. “We work with a lot of palaces and nice hotels in Paris, and this is a big deal right now for them as well, to know how they’re going to be able to receive all their supplies.”

Even residents of Paris like Birebent, who are used to a certain level of administrative red tape, have found the QR system confusing. So how will tourists coming from all different countries and speaking all different languages fare when they realize they need to submit an application to the government just to attend dinner on a bateau mouche?

“I’m concerned about what might happen to people who, you know, book their tickets, but may not have read the fine print right on navigating the city,” Tramuta says. 

Fears of QR code scams have also begun cropping up, as visitors and residents rush to apply for their digital passes. One Linkedin post that recently went viral in Paris warns of “quishing” scams, where fake QR codes are placed on top of real ones, misdirecting scanners to fraudulent websites. 

“For example, some people could put a fake QR code as a sticker on the machine. You cannot see it. It’s impossible to see. But when you  scan it, you’re actually, like, wiring the money. That’s wild,” says Birebent. “And we’re going to see so many scams. For years, there were people selling fake tickets outside of the Louvre, but now it’s going to multiply like crazy.”

Some Paris-based American TikTokers have made their reputation around calling out scams in Paris, especially in the lead-up to the Olympics. Amanda Rollins, who goes by the TikTok moniker americanfille, has garnered more than a million followers on the platform by highlighting common Parisian scams for English-speaking tourists. One recent TikTok about a “dropped ring scam” received nearly 3 million views.

But even if you’re not getting pickpocketed on the Metro, just riding it has become a major hassle. Olympics construction has closed major city hubs, like Place de la Concorde, and some metro stops, like Champs-Elysées – Clémenceau, will be completely shut down. Metro lines, some of which are already packed to the brim even during non-rush hour times, may also struggle to accommodate the movement of the expected 15.3 million visitors expected to descend on the city. According to Île-de-France Mobilités, the government authority overseeing transport companies, lines 3, 6 and 13 are still considered “fragile,” despite improvements. (Take it from someone who lives off line 13: you do not want to be taking that line at any time, let alone during peak tourist season.) 

With the Metros in a tenuous state, you might be tempted to order an Uber, but major road closures have made driving around the city even more maddening than it usually is. Starting July 15, many of the major highways in the Paris area, including the Peripherique, the highway that rings the city, will close one lane to dedicated Olympics traffic, putting extra pressure on the other lanes. 

“We all complain in Paris about it. We just want it to end. Voila, this is the French mentality.”

French chef Matthias Gloppe

“The city has changed a lot, and it’s been a nightmare for us for the last six months,” says Matthias Gloppe, a French chef who owns the Paris restaurant Echo. “It’s gotten even worse the last three weeks. It’s impossible to drive anywhere in Paris.”

With daily life becoming such a hassle, many Parisians plan to flee the city entirely for July and August — with the encouragement of their companies and the government. 

Tramuta plans to decamp from Paris for Fontainebleau. “I think that unfortunately, had there been more of an attempt to get locals really excited about it, maybe my feeling would be different,” she says. “From the get go, it was very fear mongery. You know, regional officials and the posters in the metro that encourage people to work remotely. We’re seeing signs that say work from home, don’t get packages delivered, and really anticipate your journey. And I think that that created an atmosphere of, look, this isn’t really for you. This is really for all the foreigners coming to Paris.” 

Gloppe, the restaurateur, agrees. He’ll be sticking around during the Games so his restaurant — which serves Californian cuisine — can stay open and serve the tourists, but he’s not exactly looking forward to it.

“I don’t see any excitement about these Olympic Games,” he says. “I’m sure it’s going to be exciting when it’s happening, right? But this has been, like, three months, four months, six months. We all complain in Paris about it. We just want it to end. Voila, this is the French mentality.”

Another part of the French mentality? Aggressive and creative protesting. On June 23, the day that Mayor Hidalgo and President Macron were initially supposed to swim in the Seine, a website and social media campaign encouraging residents to poop in the river in protest of the Games went viral. The website even had information about where and when to poop, based on how long it would take for the excrement to reach the area the two politicians would be swimming in.

“Because after putting us in the shit it’s their turn to bathe in our shit,” reads a translation of the site’s motto.

“Robert,” the French citizen who claims to have created the site, told the French news agency France 3 in early June that he decided to make it because he is angry about “the millions and billions invested in the Olympic Games, and at the same time, all the public services left to decay, such as public transport or the unsanitary city, with rats everywhere.”

Whether or not people actually heeded Robert’s call to action is unclear. But with less than three weeks to go until the opening ceremony, studies have shown that the Seine is still not safe to swim in, despite the fact that several events are planned there. The latest test results released by the mayor’s office in late June showed unsafe levels of E. coli and enterococci bacteria.

“Water quality remains degraded because of unfavorable hydrological conditions, little sunshine, below-average seasonal temperatures and upstream pollution,” the mayor’s office said in a statement. Mayor Hidalgo said in a recent television interview that she and President Macron would swim in the river after July 14th but before the Olympics. 

But Parisians remain unconvinced. “I don’t think it will be ready but they will make it happen anyway,” says Gloppe. “I can’t wait to see the mayor of Paris jumping in the Seine. It’s so gross! I will never ever take a swim in the Seine. Never! I mean people pee in there — it’s disgusting.”

But the real cloud hanging over the Paris Olympics has nothing to do with the Seine, or traffic, or city infrastructure. Instead, it’s political. President Macron’s controversial decision last month to dissolve the National Assembly and call snap elections, the second round of which will take place on Sunday July 7th, has thrown the nation into upheaval. The far-right party Rassemblement National seems poised to take over control of the assembly, an outcome that many Americans in Paris are likening to the rise of Donald Trump in their own country. Regardless of the outcome of the elections, the French love to protest, and fears of manifestations and riots abound. 

“If the National Assembly is super divided, we’re gonna get into a social situation that’s gonna be crazy, right?” says Birebent. “With the Olympic Games happening at the same time with so many tourists and people rioting at the same time. That could be crazy.”

“The general vibe in France right now is so tense because of these elections and because of other global chaos, right?” Tramuta says. “So it just feels really hard to summon the excitement to want to stay [for the Olympics] and brave the mess.”

For her part, Tramuta thinks the Games will go rather smoothly, even if there are hiccups early on.

“I think it’ll be fine. I think ultimately, maybe the first few days of the Olympics will be the smoothing out phase, and people will get adjusted,” she says. “And I hope that any kinks do get worked out. I mean, I lean cynical, but I’m trying to keep that in check.”

Though Parisians may not appreciate them now, infrastructure improvements like the extension of line 14 and the creation of more bike lanes will be felt long after the tourists and athletes pack up and leave.

“There’s things I feel happy about, like the bike lanes and all of the things that the mayor has been working on for years, I mean, that really makes the city feel different, and I think better,” Tramuta says. “I think Paris is perhaps in a better place to show off some of these changes now than they would have been if they had won in the previous bid.”

Even Gloppe sees some things in the Games to be excited about.


“It’s gonna be a beautiful opening ceremony,” Gloppe says. “If there is no terrorist attack.”