Tuesday, September 14, 2010

5 - Paris Strike - Part Deux 2010

Written by Karen
Eiffel Tower
We arrived in Paris on a Sunday afternoon under warm, blue skies, but the Parisians were a bit cranky.  Maybe because it was hot, or maybe it was all of the talk about the strike.  Strike?  What strike?  Well, it came as a surprise to us that during the months of July and August, everyone is away on holiday and doesn’t want to think about politics.  But, come September, voila...let the games begin. 

It was hard to get a handle on what was actually happening, or what was supposed to happen with the strike.  We started to read news articles and when we Googled, "strike Paris September 2010", the days/time were shifted.  First it was on Monday, then it was on a Tuesday, then it was both Monday and Tuesday.  When we asked Jean Luc - our Le Marais hotelier about it - he just shrugged and said, “It will be a big problem for you, but wait until we know for sure”. The equivalent of don’t borrow trouble, I guess.  He had stories of the last stike in June that had been scheduled for one day and it turned into  a protest lasting two weeks.  This strike was being planned for the recent proposal to extend the start of social security benefits from 60 to 62. Coming from the U.S. where the idea of having any sort of social security benefit has long been erased from our financial projections, this seemed a reasonable proposal, but evidently not.
Paris Catacombs
Metro Station
We took Jean Luc’s advice and decided not to worry about it quite yet; after all, we were only scheduled to be in Paris for two nights.  We’ll figure out the strike if and when it happens.  We walked the first, fourth, fifth and sixth arroindessments; checked out the new exhibits in the Pomideau Center, which is always an excellent museum, took a Seine cruise, visited the Catacombs, and had another incredible food moment.  

In the Ste Germain-des Prixe district, we found a small brasserie where we were seated at a table sidewalk-side.  You can always tell, early on, if your restaurant experience is going to be good, bad, average or exceptional.  The minute I took a sip of my French burgundy wine, it was pretty clear - we had found another winner. Adam chose the smoked baked salmon with rice pilaf and I had the poivre steak with pommes frites. Wow. Adrian, our pleasant waiter, walked us thorugh how the chef made each of our meals, and we took copious mental notes. And the dessert....well, I took a picture. It’s meringue topped with caramel over a melted vanilla custard. Typical French, Adrian said. The entire experience was great: Adrian, the food, the drinks, the company, the conversation, the long 2-1/2 hour lunch, the ambiance.  Joie de vivre. What a concept! Simple but profound.
Strike Action
So, back to the strike.  It was scheduled to start on Monday evening at 7:00 pm and end at 8:00 pm on Tuesday night.  We had planned to leave on Tuesday morning for the south of France, but with the strike shutting down most of the transportation system, we did the only thing that really made sense.  We stayed another day.  The federal police presence was pretty substantial.  On Rue de Tivoli, we counted 14 police vans lined up and one good sized bus.  They were ready for trouble and it did send a shudder down our spines as we moved closer to watch the strike.  But, it was nothing.  Reports had up to 2-1/2 million people participating across France, and maybe that is true.  The mood was festive, people were dancing to hip-hop music and singing this simple refrain, ‘I don’t want to work today because I don’t want to get stressed’. Work and stress together...hmmmm....how unusual! 

There have been two scheduled strikes since the beginning of September, and one scheduled again for next week.  I guess that is a way to get a reduced work week: schedule a strike for every Tuesday.  That will give you a four-day work week!  

But, with all strikes, the real impact is to the ordinary person.  Sure, we got to stay in Paris for another day because our schedule was flexible enough.  However, there were many people who didn't have that flexibility and were stranded.  We spoke with many a tourist and business person who were very frustrated about the delays.  The costs of re-scheduled plans hit the ordinary person hard.  How does that get calculated into the overall strike picture and hoped for outcomes?  It always seems a very selfish and childish way to communicate your displeasure.  

When we were last in Paris, there was another transportation strike at the rail station with beating of pots and pans and blowing of whistles.  The complete disregard of these folks running rampant up and down the long lines to cause the maximum amount of pain was sadistic.  The look of pain in everyone's eyes as they had to wait in extra long lines with the racket was universal, and not supportive, to say the least of any cause, except to 'get me outta here!'  (We now carry ear plugs in our day packs, just in case!) 

We were told that the best times to come to Paris and not be impacted by a strike was during the months of July and August.  Why?  Because the labor and political leaders were on holiday.  You had a good chance of being impacted by a strike in both June and September, either right before or after the holidays, and when politics started in earnest again.  

1 comment:

MoneyIQ said...

Interesting observations about the strike, what an interesting time to be there to experience that! I carry earplugs with me constantly, now, since I live in central SF and I'm constantly surrounded by noise- they are a life-saver to have :)

The other thought that came to me was a book that I'd read about French culture- there seemed to be such an emphasis on quality versus quantity, a real pleasure in such things as the experience of eating. It sounds like you really enjoyed that meal- it sounded really yummy!