The French Strike Again (Bless them).

I strike therefore I am.

The French love nothing more than to strike. Even if they don’t actually approve of the cause of the strike, watching their country grind to a halt puts them in touch with their visceral, ancestral selves and makes them feel alive. And who can blame them? Strikes in France are fun. People become uncharacteristically friendly during periods of social unrest. They give each other lifts, talk to each other in bus queues. Against all reason, men and women from every social milieu feel impelled to rally behind the deep, instinctual cry of the protesting toddler in the face of authority: “Non, non, non, non, non!” This explains why, at a time of severe economic crisis for their nation, 69% of French people support today’s general strike (Le Figaro).

President of Sud Rail, France's second railway union, confirmed on French radio that "basically we're practicing class warfare."

The President of 'Sud Rail', France's second railway union, confirmed on French radio that "basically, we're practicing class warfare."

Fighting Talk

“The law is the law,” the French Minister for Education, Xavier Darcos, announced bravely last October. “It (a law to ensure a minimum service for the public sector during a strike) has been voted and validated by the Supreme Court. It must be enforced,” he thundered.

Today, in spite of Xavier Darcos’ promise to provide a minimum service in primary schools, my son’s school is closed. (He is next door shooting his enemies with a very noisy phaser.) Today’s Le Parisien provides a long, long list (which includes Paris itself) of all the towns and cities that will not be respecting Darcos’ law.

Xavier Darcos is what the French call a faux dur (a fake toughie, or someone who pretends to be tough). The French political landscape is littered with the bodies of ‘faux durs’ who promised to push through unpopular reforms and caved in under pressure from the street.

Example of A Faux Dur

While Jacques Chirac was building his political persona, he sought, like most French right-wing politicians of his generation, to emulate de Gaulle’s authoritarian style and grandeur. He did not fool anyone for long, for it soon became clear that Chirac was a bon vivant* pretending to be a dur.

The Real Thing

That, perhaps, is why Margaret Thatcher was such a source of fascination to so many of them. François Mitterrand said of her, “She has the mouth of Marilyn Monroe and the eyes of Caligula,” and although he had difficulty disguising his contempt for her evident lack of culture, he could not help admiring her vision and determination. For politicians like him, Thatcher was the real thing, which may have explained Chirac’s exasperation when he murmured to an aide, during one of her state visits, “What more does that housewife want from me? My balls on a platter?”

* Not, as many English people believe, a bon viveur.

7 thoughts on “The French Strike Again (Bless them).

  1. Err, is that noisy phaser by any chance our doing? (You wonder why we gave them to you?) Yup – our two duahgters’ schools are closed too today. Minimum service doesn’t happen here in practice.

  2. They were letting us on the Metro at Chatelet for free this morning. Does this mean there will be no service this afternoon? There’s the law, and then there’s the practice and then there’s “whatever.” In the States no one strikes; everyone keeps working and there’s no notion of “minimum service.” How does that work?

  3. Lawlessness is another of the infuriating charms of this country. The chaos and freedom that comes with a big strike day in Paris…The blissful sensation of pushing through that turnstile unhindered, without some busybody shouting ‘oi! You haven’t paid!’ In Britain and America the law really is the law. No need for a minimum service because the notion of a minimum service is symptomatic of that ‘proviso’ mentality that reigns in France: This is the law but hey, we know you’re going to break it because you’re naughty little children and that’s why we love you so much. Perhaps the question is which kind of parent would you rather have?

  4. hello to the deep inside of France.

    It is a pleasure to read you. I went yesterday night through the whole blog. please keep on doing it (whatever your motivation are). please keep on playing with that eternal rivality / Love & hate relashionship / despise & respect between the english and the french.

    I guess the best and the worse that can happen to the french is to be observed deeply from the inside by an English mind.

    One of friend, former rugdy player from Biarritz once told me : “The English, even if you win the game, at the end of the match, they still look at you from the mountain”

  5. That’s interesting. My ex-husband said that whenever he watched a France-England rugby match, he came home feeling slightly depressed about being French. “As usual the chants of the English crowds gave me goose pimples and our doleful ‘Allez les Bleus’ sounded like a band of snotty, undisciplined children.”

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