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).
“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.