Sunday, November 14, 2010

"I'm Falling Out of Enchantment..."

Allow me to begin this blog with an apology for my month long hiatus.  I was kept really very busy having no job and all of my classes cancelled for weeks due to les grèves (strikes).
France, since the day of its conception
Je rigole (just kidding).  What have I been doing: running around the city searching for my lost passport; running around the city applying for a new one; running around the city throwing money at French bureaucracy like they should be paying me hourly.  This unfortunate series of events, however, is not actually what has been keeping my fingertips away from a WordDoc like oil from water; what’s been deterring me is the knowledge that I should be informing the world about the True Grève Experience—and just not wanting to hear anymore talk about it.
Alas, I came here with an objective to reveal France’s true colors in all their nit and grit.  Thus, on this seventh of rather colorless and drizzly days in Paris I will deliver to you my humble opinion on the strikes, manifestations and general social uproar of the past weeks.
I was reading Le Monde just the other day and the Christian-Polytech-Capitalist-Liberal Claude Bebear was cited for his explanation of the odd relationship the French have with their work: they’re diligent and hard working people but despise their jobs, like to complain about how they're exhausting, and in fact “breathe paid leaves of absence.”  Why is it that the French seem to hate working more than the average person?  My hunch is that none of them are actually working at what they enjoy.  Whereas I am in my third year of university, without much of an inkling of my choice career, assuming I will stumble upon some journalist type job to occupy me for a year or two before going back to school in my mid-twenties, my French counterparts are in the last year of university, preparing to enter a two-years Masters program for a specialization that they’ve been marinating on since the ripe age of 16 when they were obligated to first lay the ground work for a conceivable career (i.e. by choosing certain schooling--vocational versus academic--and choosing certain subjects--literature, history philosophy versus math and science).  If I was mandated to pursue the hopes and dreams of my 16 year old self I would be the next Amy Winehouse right now…  Needless to say, the French want their retrait (retirement) and they want it promptly at age 60. 

A 60 year old beating the drums of war

I’ve heard that raising the retirement age is President Sarkozy’s fiscal strategy for combating recession deficits.  The French general public like to promulgate that he’s acting out of personal/political self-interest: “He just wants more money!  Fewer retirees means more money!”  The long and short of it is that the President is notorious for handing out freebies (positions in government, money, housing) to friends while simultaneously largely disregarding public opinion.  I don’t believe Sarkozy is initiating retirement reform in hopes of creating a pool of national money that he can dive into personally just after his morning baguette, kind of like I don’t believe George W. strat-e-ger-ized the 9/11 attacks – it’s not that they aren’t conniving enough, but I beg of you please: don’t overestimate the intelligence of politicians.  That being said, the French are furious.  They want their retraites and they will slander the President in whatever nonsensical way they can in the battle for retirement homes and diapers.

Why the French don't understand the concept of reducing deficits...
Also why the French don't understand the concept of working...

What really grinds my gears about this whole ordeal is this: if the government’s mind is on national fiscal responsibility and the public’s mind is on the well-being of the old folks, WHY are the French youth so intent to be involved—the debate either a) doesn’t pertain to them or b) confuses them because what kid can explain the intricacies of the current global recession (not me obviously).  Alas, these rambunctious kids, suckling revolutionary milk since birth, the blood of generations of rebels flowing through their veins, are bent upon having at least one vacation day weekly.  It is not uncommon to arrive at my university and find one entrance roped off with caution tape and all the others blockaded by mountains of desks and chairs.  Nothing like a pretense of activist fervor to justify not exercising our brains!
While I’m convinced most French kids just want to party like it’s May 1968, a serious argument for youth involvement is skyrocketing youth unemployment: Retraites pour les vieux; boulots pour les jeunes” (retirement for the old; jobs for the young).  However, the root of the problem of youth unemployment rests in French employment laws.  If a company fires an employee it must continue paying the ex-employee's salary for up to three years or until the ex-employee finds a new job.  Granted, the ex-employee must present him/herself at a bureau every month and prove he/she is searching for work, so it’s not a complete free-for-all.  However, this is a huge incentive for companies to hire well the first time and then not hire at all…for another 30 years.  Hence: youth unemployment.  Then, when gang violence erupts in the banlieue the French government gets "tough on crime" and throws some more minorities in jails.  (See also: The au Harem d’Archimed, a great film about job discrimination against Arabs in France and the resultant delinquencies of poor riff-raff.)

At any rate, I’m fatiguée’d with all of the grève’ing.  I’ll stick to America, where people function on prompt schedules, the only unexpected school holidays are snow days, and while people spend their life earnings to send their kids to school, at least there’s a chance those people enjoyed to some extent working for those life earnings.  Plus, the French just really aren’t as hard core as the American news makes them seem.  It’s really not all fun and burning buildings and smashing cars and stoning school employees—it is more often than anything else simply a hassle.
I did get interviewed by Polish News the one day I participated in the manifestations, though.  Silver lining: 30 seconds of fame.

Just your friendly neighborhood

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