Back at Home in Paris

Written by kvfawcett on November 19, 2010 – 1:12 pm -

I’m home and it feels so right. Yes, there are strikes and there are more to come. But, if you’re in the City of Light, it doesn’t feel as if it’s the end of the world.

Based on all the news reports and shows of violence being looped on television, who in their right minds would consider coming here now?  Ahh, hmmm… let me attest: plenty of people. When I arrived at Dulles airport, my first questions to the airline personnel were about the strikes. The what? No, there hadn’t been more cancellations than usual on the Paris-bound flight.

The plane from Washington, DC, was 80% full. After asking a few passengers if they were concerned about coming to France, they really didn’t know about the strikes. Or if they did, they weren’t concerned over being affected by them.

The flight took off on time and landed 40 minutes early. Getting into the city wasn’t substantially more difficult than usual although it did take a bit longer because some people, who might have taken mass transit, were driving. Gas stations were open and plenty of cars were waiting to receive their allotment of gas.

As angry as the French may be, they generally don’t lean on their cars’ horns to express their displeasure.

The French passengers with whom I spoke shrugged and said, “C’est normale. We strike first and hope we can negotiate later.”  Even they admitted they didn’t think the French government was going to back down from voting in France’s pension reforms.

The most cogent discussion I heard about the strikes in France was broadcast on The Diane Rehm Show, which is aired in Washington and networked by NPR to its member stations. Her guests explained a bit about the French mentality in addition to the economic necessity of the pension reform.

Alexander Chancellor, columnist for British newspaper The Guardian, had another explanation about the strikes.  “British resistance to government cuts will never match those in France. Some will certainly fight the cuts tooth and nail, but it is more in our national character to unite in shared suffering.” The famous British stiff upper lip seems to have been deployed, if perhaps with a crinkled nose and squinted eyes, while the French are out in the streets as they have been since before the Saint Bartholomew massacre.

The French feel they are defined by revolution, and look back with nostalgia to the events of May 1968. They are conditioned to distrust their ruling elite and think they are only living up to their finest national traditions when they are burning cars or throwing cobblestones at the police. If we find comfort—and we don’t always—in following our government’s calls for self-sacrifice in the national interest, the French find it in defying their government.

Brits are astonished the French are making such a fuss about the raising of the retirement age from 60 to 62 when it has already been raised to 67 in Germany and will soon be raised to 66 in the U.K. According to opinion polls, a majority of French people actually accepts that the retirement age must go up if the country is to be able to afford its generous pension system.

The French Senate officially adopted the reform bill and the final vote will likely take place during the week of Oct. 25, with the law expected to be enforced soon thereafter. We’ll see if the strikes continue, as unions and other strikers vow will happen.

But what am I seeing in Paris? People are walking, biking and when I went out last night for a dinner that made me know I was home, the #83 bus that’s always late came immediately. The patrons in the restaurant were enjoying their dinners and no one could be audibly heard complaining.

A trip to the grocery store was another indication that life is good. People are on the streets and in the shops and if there are any visible signs of striking in this area, it’s that the trash trucks haven’t been by for a couple of days. Some heavy trash bags have joined the trash bins but are placed just so because in spite of the strikes, the French maintain a sense of order.

Please don’t get me wrong and think I dismiss the strikes as nonsense. Anything but and it’s distressing that some students (in addition to probable thugs up to no good) have joined the strikers. Their activities seem self-defeating, especially in a debate which is over.

What is amazing to me that I returned home to find a sign on the main door announcing the one elevator in the building is not going to be operational for six weeks beginning January 3rd. Living on the fifth floor (U.S), that gave me pause. I immediately encountered my next-door neighbor who is well over 80 thinking she’d be upset.

Chère Mme Morin commented we’d better remember all of the groceries we needed so we wouldn’t have to make more than one trip to the grocery store each day. I was too tired to remind her that grocery stores deliver and wasn’t about to mention all of the Internet grocery sites where you can order everything including the kitchen sink.

If the same thing were to happen in the U.S., I assume the tenants would go ballistic and… there would not be a strike because what or whom would they be striking against? A dilapidated elevator? Yet, I’m not thrilled and can’t believe it’s going to take six weeks to repair. On the other hand, I need to lose some weight and will use the stairs as the way to do so. I try to take them once a day when I am in Paris.

Now, I’ll simply have to take them more frequently. And to be sure, no one in the building will go on strike although Mme Morin suggested we might want to put a chair on each floor so we could rest before continuing up. She’s absolutely right and I’d better inform some friends who’d planned to visit during that period that they might want to reconsider.

My guess is the lack of an elevator will be more of a deterrent to houseguests than the strikes. As the French would say, on verra.

(c) Paris New Media, LLC


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