Friday, March 17, 2006

That old striking spirit

The spirit of '68 is in full swing here in Paris. Getting from the Latin Quarter to Montmartre on line 7 during rush hour yesterday evening was a stop and go experience. I may have had better luck getting out and walking, joining the students in their protests. Kids in their early 20s with "CPE" painted on their faces and a line slashed through it would stomp onto the subway car, yell their slogans to the amusement of the riders, and run out at the next stop. Eddie took a taxi home last night from his office near Gobelins. Upon hearing his taxi driver's accent, he soon learned that the guy was Russian, a former member of the Red Army for five years who, upon the dissolution of the Soviet Union, then became a member of the French Foreign Legion in Africa for seven years. It was only his second day of being a cab driver in Paris. It would be bad enough on a normal day. "Which way should I go?" he kept asking Eddie. You picked a hell of a week to start being a cab driver, Eddie told him.

Coming from the land of two weeks vacation a year, I continue to be really impressed with employment benefits in France. For those of you who don't know already, the French receive FIVE weeks of vacation a year. Yes I said FIVE weeks of vacation a year. Count 'em One Two Three Four FIVE weeks of vacation a year. In addition they receive other benefits such as subsidizing of transportation to work, meal tickets good in most restaurants, very decent social healthcare AND a thirty five hour work week. Once you sign an employment contract in France, it's next to impossible to get fired. I mean, you have to do something REALLY REALLY bad, like, literally do NOTHING but blog from your desk all day for a year. I do admire the system, and the French are reluctant to let go of these benefits that they have worked so hard for. I read a poll this morning that says only 27 percent of French people support the new First Contract law that the students are protesting against. The drawback of this model of employment is that it is incredibly costly to the State, and unemployment has been at a two digit figure for over a decade. Sooooo....something does have to give. I can understand the students not wanting to accept a contract that offers less than what the country is used to and has fought for, but at the same time the system cannot continue to stagnate as it has, with over three million young people unable to get a first work experience.

I feel sorry for the kids who want to get back in and finish their degrees, it seems they have been shut out for a few weeks now. I also need to get into the Sorbonne to get a copy of my French linguistic evaluation from last year. Having called several times and wondering why they never answered their damn phone, I finally showed up on Tuesday, not realizing the address of the office was actually INSIDE the Sorbonne itself, and felt silly when Monsieur Le Cute Policeman looked at me like I was a space alien and said, but, no, of course you cannot access the rue Victor Cousin, Madame, the whole street is blocked off...


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