mercredi, novembre 21
posted by Gina at 12:42

Someone put together this little photo montage of life on public transport for the past week.
(If you don't speak French, here's a quick bit of vocab:
métro, boulot, dodo: metro, work, bed. French phrase for the daily grind.
en grève: on strike
cheminots: railway workers)

la foule
envoyé par vetodoud

Nicely put together in my opinion, although I missed the significance of the "no defecating" sign at the end (which looks like it's from the London tube, by the way.)
I had the misfortune of going into Paris Monday night. An attempt to take the métro ended in a full fledged panic attack. Passengers were pushing, climbing over and screaming at each other, so I squirmed my way out, deciding that waiting in a café for a few hours as traffic settled down would be better than that. Later that night, when my husband came to pick me up by car, we drove home from rue de Rome- a trip that usually takes us 15 minutes, though Monday night, it was a one-hour ride. And the stress and anger in the passenger trains was even stronger among the motorists. I saw three near-incidents where pedestrians were almost plowed down by drivers focusing on not being bumped into by other cars and scooters inching up on them. People were getting out of their cars to scream at other motorists who jumped ahead of them at intersections.
From Lille to Nice, the strike is paralyzing France. Workers are losing wages from not getting to work. Construction sites stand still. Stores have lost customers. An angry café owner wondered on tv last night how France is supposed to compete with other countries economically if they continue having strikes that hit the French wallet. Even the SNCF announced it loses 50 million euros for each day the strike continues.
And if transportation wasn't enough, it's spreading to other sectors. Teachers are on strike for their insufficient salaries. Airport controllers are on strike. Postal workers. Tax collectors- though their strike didn't upset folks so much. Neither did the electricians on strike who prostested by cutting power to the radars that monitor cars' speed on the highways.
Though this strike has lasted a week, in 1995, France saw one that lasted three weeks. Three weeks! I've heard it practically destroyed thousands of businesses. Maybe it's the threat of reliving that that put protesters on the street Sunday in a counter-strike. Thousands walked the streets of Paris, yelling "Cheminots, au boulot!" (Railway workers, back to work), "Grevistes, égoïstes!" (Strikers are selfish), and "Fillon, tiens bon!" (a cry to Prime Minister François Fillon to stick to his guns and not wimp out under the pressure). In France, you can say bad words on tv which is good news for stranded commuters being interviewed by journalists as they wait hours for a train to go home. They take full advantage of that. Negociations are going on today. And the Frenchies are holding their breath.
mercredi, novembre 14
posted by Gina at 18:13

Imagine what would happen in Los Angeles if a bunch of pinheads decided they didn't like their retirement plan at work and protested by blocking all the major highways. A line of people holding a sit-in on the 405. People waving signs and blocking entrances to the 101 and the 110 freeways. Their work worries aren't not your fault, but it's you who has to be put out. That's sort of what's happening in France. AGAIN.
New reforms are being proposed to change the work regulations of unions, notably the SNCF, in France and the reaction they're going with is the old, faithful one: go on strike and stop the trains.
Today was day #1. 10% of the normal metro traffic ran. Only 90 out of some 700 TGV trains did their routes. The RER A and B lines were dead. TV news stations reported something like 200 miles of motionless traffic around the Paris region.
The scene today was bad enough, but what really gets me is that this is not unheard of here. The train drivers just pulled a stunt like this a month ago. Why are they so mad? Because the government wants to make some changes, the big issue being that of retirement. TGV drivers retire at the ripe, old age of 50 and anyone insisting they push that age back is asking for chaos. A few strikes ago, someone sent me an email explaining all the perks of driving for the SNCF and I list that message here (translated from French):
-Starting salary: 2,200 to 3,200 euros net monthly (1 Euro is about $1.46 as of today)
-Free healthcare: Covered 100 percent at 15,900 medical centers
-Retirement at age 50
-End of year bonus
-All kinds of bonuses, including one that translates to charcoal bonus. (This dates way back to the day when transit workers were exposed to health hazards from the coal powered trains. The coal powered trains are long gone, but the bonus remains. Go figure.)
-Free transportation for employees and their families

The SNCF represents 1 percent of employees in France, yet their workers account for 20 percent of days on strike among all strikes in France. And, like playing pétanque and drinking apératifs, strikes are a tradition here.
And what a month for strikes it is. Not only is the transport sector in the mood for being a pain in the @$$ but the feeling is shared by the energy sectors and the universities. Students have blocked off several campuses protesting in favor of autonomy for universities. Last week, they took it off campus and had a sit in on the train tracks at Gare du Nord, you guessed it, blocking the path of commuter trains. We watched on tv as a smiling twenty-something girl among a crowd of commuters yelled, "This is the only way for us to be heard!" The six-foot tall black guy in her face bellowed, "I WANT TO GO HOME!" Then everyone started yelling at everyone.
Back to the transit strike, the word on the street says the majority of people are against the unions and with the government on this one. A relief from last month's strike when a reporter interviewed a stranded commuter who shrugged and said, "It's for a good cause." There's still a mark on my TV screen from where I threw my camembert-spreaded baguette after hearing that one. But today on tv, people were frustrated and pissed off. Except, I suppose for the few that only depend on metro line 14 for transportation. It ran as usual since it's automatic and therefore has no driver to walk off the job. I know what you're thinking: Well, if the drivers are so uncontent with their jobs, fire them all and make all the lines driverless! Sigh.. we can dream...
This morning, I heard the honking of commuters who took to driving starting at 6 o'clock. Lots of people took the day off. Some went to work in rollerblades. Friends in the center of Paris saw people storing Velib bikes (from the city's new public bicycle system) in their stairwells last night instead of risking going out to an empty Velib stand in the morning.
As for myself, I had no way of getting to work. I can't drive anymore and waiting on the train platform for three hours to see if a train might come was a little hopeless if someone were waiting for me to arrive at work at a certain time. In addition to the fact that squeezing myself into an overcrowded train when I've got precious cargo on my belly would be just plain wreckless. My boss said don't worry about coming in for the rest of the week. Nice, but I don't get paid if I'm not there. Of course, the obvious solution is just to jump the metro gates from now on so I can recompensate myself for my salary lost.
Perhaps the worst thing about all this is the image it gives of the French work mentality. That's what a French co-worker mentioned to me. There's that stereotype of the French saying they're lazy and can't handle working more than 35 hours a week and are always on vacation and blah, blah, blah... Personally, I don't know anyone who doesn't work more than 35 hours a week. Everyone I know here puts in long hours. But nevertheless my colleague lamented, "They're giving France a bad reputation." Hopefully, change is on the way and workers will be back at work by next week. If not, I'm investing in a commuter helicopter business.
jeudi, novembre 8
posted by Gina at 17:35

If you're still checking in, I'm still alive! A change of apartments and our frustratingly neglectful internet provider has left us abandandoned without internet for a looong time.
I'm currently posting this from a cyber café that makes moth balls smell like roses and sitting next to some girl skyping someone in some language I've never heard before- and their conversation seems to have gotten ugly. All of which means I've been plugging my ears and holding my breath for about 10 minutes now. So I gotta go for now...I'll be back soon...