Welcome to France and the World of Strikes

Written by kvfawcett on October 15, 2010 – 10:18 am -

You may be a tourist and here for R&R. But that doesn’t make you exempt from the realities of French life. Since I live in Paris, I’ve learned (well, kinda) to factor in some of the negatives that drive others nutty and provoke people to call the French some not very nice names. Lord knows, tourists can come away with some mighty negative impressions. To be succinct, it’s the season of la grève first and la négociation after a while. The French strike first and talk it over later.

Dealing with strikes means acquiring an acceptance that you can’t change the way things are done, merci beaucoup. The first year I lived in France, the strikes were enough to make me want to jump out of my skin and decide to make a religious study of France’s best agricultural product.  Ah, drinking way too much wine succeeded in numbing some of the pain and suffering derived from the post office being on strike in addition to Paris’s public transportation system.

This sounds like the dark ages, and yet it was (only) 22 years ago. I had no option but to walk and walk and learned a lot about Paris and happily lost some weight. However, I wasn’t a happy camper since this was pre-internet (no VoIP or Skype) and phone calls were a major line item in our budget. We bought a fax, but still trying to stay close to friends and family cost a ton of old French francs. No, my husband and I didn’t get divorced over the FranceTel bills. However, there were some mighty heated conversations about my intrinsic need to communicate.

People learn to go with the flow or try to without going into cardiac arrest. For example, children are back in school; the rentrée has occurred—or so their parents thought. Twelve million students finally returned to class after a long summer—and let’s get on with education. Easier said than done since the unions that represent France’s 850,000 teachers are going on their first strike of the academic year this Monday and Tuesday.

Teachers’ unions are protesting against the government’s pension reforms and the job cuts. Approximately 16,000 jobs have been axed for this academic year. 30,000 posts were cut between 2007 and 2009. There’s serious talk of 16,000 additional cuts next September and teachers and other members of the staff aren’t happy. Nor are the parents who want their offspring to go to school and actually have the opportunity to learn.

No one is happy. This year’s reforms mean that large parts of curricula at all levels have been rewritten, and several textbooks aren’t ready for distribution. There’s talk of extending the school week so children will be less exhausted and many other changes. Change is generally unpopular.

On Tuesday, while the teachers will be striking, a general strike is planned for people who don’t want to see the retirement age raised from 60 to 62—which may give the teachers a hard time deciding which strike to join that day. All of the other unions will join this industrial action, and if you want to get from here to there, forget it. Whether or not President Sarkozy will be successful in getting this reform passed is more than problematic. There’s been a lot of yelling and screaming even though the French trade unions’ protests failed to rally enough street power against the proposed crucial reforms regarding France’s costly pension system. Anyone who reads the economic news is aware that an economic crisis is spreading across Europe and needs to be contained. Being required to work two or three extra years may ease the problem.

But are strikes and turmoil any reason for tourists not to come to France? The answer is absolutely not. Please anticipate that you may be somewhat inconvenienced, but restaurants will be open. You’ll probably encounter what frequently looks like a Fourth of July parade with vendors selling sausages and drinks to keep the protestors going. If you’re sightseeing, wear a hat with a big brim (things get thrown occasionally) and be prepared to walk and explore some off-the-beaten path neighborhoods.

Politics is a sport and a science of its own. I am by no means dismissing the long-term ramifications of these very key issues. A lot of people’s futures are on the line (including President Sarkozy’s), and French society’s future is resting on which reforms are adopted and which aren’t.

Think of it this way: Vacation is over and it’s a new season and life is back in the fast lane—or maybe it’s the breakdown lane.

(c) Paris New Media, LLC


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