Tuesday, December 1, 2009


Strikes in Paris are about as common as finding a Starbuck's in San Francisco. They are everywhere. On any given day, one is bound to find some group of Parisians striking or marching against the government. In fact, the French take the act of striking to a whole new level. It certainly make it a
bit more interesting when one is trying to cross the street, but can't because of the ubiquitous sea of people holding up signs and chanting something for their cause.  Sometimes there is not much more one can do but join in.

However, one of the biggest problems is when the metro employees decide it is time for another strike. Unfortunately, this happens quite often.  Chaos is certainly a word I would choose to describe how this affects the city.  People either "borrow" city bikes to get to work, they don't come in at all, or they get stuck trying to get the random train that does come by.

On one occasion, I amazingly had forgotten that one line of the metro had been on strike for the day.  I walked onto the platform only to be crammed like a sardine.  With the exception of the swaying back and forth from the pushing and shoving, I could not move at all, not even to leave to take a different line or even to walk.  I was simply stuck, hoping that I would not be crushed in all this mayhem. God forbid if I had actually dropped something.  I assure you, I would have had to write off the dropped item if I had.

Generally speaking, on a normal day, the trains arrive after only a couple of minutes, which keeps the stations relatively spacious.  Strike days are a whole different matter.  Perhaps one might be lucky to see a train go by every 30, 45 or 60 minutes—all the while, the platforms expand with more people at both a disproportionate and quite frankly an alarming rate. During the wait for my savior train, I had to contend with people pushing and prodding me each time a random train decided to stop by for a pick-up. Rarely, could anyone actually get on the train though, as the few that did come by either raced passed us or if they did actually stop, there were so many people already on board that when the doors slowly opened, the passengers held on for dear life so they wouldn't lose their place on the train, yet they were indeed popping out from having a little more air to breathe. It was as though a too-tight girdle just got loosened.  The doors then had a heck of a time trying to close with all the people now standing in the doorway.

At one point I was finally at the front row, and I thought for sure I would be able to make the next train. I was mistaken. It took another three trains before I could actually force my way onto the train just so I could get out of one mess and onto another mess. It surprises me that I did not have an asthma attack while on board as my chest had very little room for breathing. Let me tell you, I have never been more grateful to arrive at my station.

Since strikes on the metro are such a common occurrence, the company is fighting back. They are doing so, by installing automated trains that don't need drivers.  Admittedly, it's a little eerie, when I jump on a train only to find no one is at the helm, but at least the train arrives in a timely manner and I likely will never have to go through the craziness I had to on that one day.

What amuses me is this difference in our two cultures.  In the U.S. when Major League baseball players went on strike in the mid-90's it almost cost them the game. If players didn't want to play and support their fans interest, then so be it, we would no longer support them when they came back. It took a whole lot of canoodling on the League's part to get people to come back to the game. In France, on the other hand, going on strike is practically a national sport. It's almost as though each union is racing against the clock to accumulate as many strike days as possible. Interestingly enough, I have never met one French person who minded the fact that it was a strike day—even if they have to wait.  C'est normal et c'est la vie.

After being here for nearly a year, I have decided to make light of how many strikes there are here—that is until now. That is because the museums have jumped on the striking bandwagon.  No, please say it isn't so! Whew, my 'upset' barometer just went off. I mean what will they do next? I think the only thing worse could be turning off all the public restrooms. Perhaps I should not have mentioned turning off the public restrooms, for I may have just inadvertently given them an idea to do so.

The Pompidou, plus some smaller museums were the first that leaped for the opportunity to go on strike last week and now the Louvre may join in on the quest for truth, justice and the French way, starting tomorrow, December 2nd. Yikes, there goes my free Sunday, not to mention how many hundreds of thousands of euros to all the tourist venues—including the museum itself. Strikes don't just affect the employees of the strike, it affects the restaurants, the souvenir shops and other local businesses. Since tourism is a major contributor the city's economy, shutting down public venues like this really hurts everyone's pocketbooks—not to mention my eyes from not being able to see any of the beautiful art.

Yes, the museum's workers have their reasons. Apparently, management only wants to offer half the people retirement. I get it, people are mad—and they certainly deserve their retirement pay. I just don't understand why the greve (strike) seems to be the only way to communicate.  For me, it's a little like crying wolf. How many times do we cry wolf before no one believes in our cause anymore? To be honest, whatever happened to simple talking and listening to one another?  Maybe then something would actually get done.

In the meantime, make sure to check the latest scoop online to see if your museum, train or any other venue for that matter is closed.  If it is, then walk to a park and have a picnic.  They don't close nature around here.

Thank you for reading and bonne journee!