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La beauté est dans la rue
October 23, 2010 3:27 AM   Subscribe

French general strike is going on. It's against a proposal by the French government to raise the normal retirement age for public pensions from 65 to 67 and early reduced pensions from age 60 to 62. All society is concerned. Voilà the manifestations of high-school students, so damn chic.
posted by - (89 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
It's the scarves, right? We would be chic if we wore scarves?
posted by HuronBob at 3:42 AM on October 23, 2010 [7 favorites]


Its intimidating and embedded in the culture. I was there last week for a conference, and even the lunch buffet was chic, the National Assembly had an aesthetic and country villages are beautiful. Its simultaneously not fair and slightly unreal.

I arrived in Paris the night the strike began (11th Oct) and the taxi driver was looking forward to extra business. I also heard in hallway conversations that the strikes more politically motivated rather than genuine concern about pensions per se. However, I have no citations for this snippet.
posted by The Lady is a designer at 3:47 AM on October 23, 2010


I think I saw the ghost of Jean Seberg in the crowd.

It's interesting that the youthful protesters of France don't appear to have the same unfortunate predilection for insipid and culturally-appropriated lopsided dreadlocks with crap braided into the fibrous morass that our kids so adore. Yes, it marks me as a cranky old guy, but I think a little decorum does aid the message, even if you don't believe in labels (except for the Crass logo and that anarchy crossed-out A).

I'm opinionated on protests, but there's a reason.

I was born just as the student riots in Paris in '68 were gathering steam, and I think that the glorious spirit of those times came drifting over the Atlantic like radioactive clouds from Chernobyl, settling into the cow pastures of Maryland and seeping into our dairy products until it infiltrated my system. I love French stuff, even though I can't remotely comprehend their culture, and I love love love the very idea of rioting. I think rioting's totally underrated in America.

Back in '92, when the Rodney King riots were raging, I was so damn jealous of Los Angeles that I could barely contain myself, rooting through the travel section until my fingertips were stained with newspaper ink in a desperate search of a cheap round-trip ticket to L.A. so I could fulfill a lifelong dream and throw a malt liquor bottle through a store window, but I didn't have the cash for the trip, so I had to content myself with throwing a Pernod bottle into the recycling bin really, really hard. The damn thing didn't even break. Life's really just not fair, sometimes.

When I lived in Atlanta, I used to like to go to a strange place called Underground, a silly little mall created by the construction of a viaduct that raised the street level back in the '20s and stranded a whole bunch of old architecture in a weird tunnelly sort of place. For some insane reason, the Rodney King rioting made its way there, too, and though I'd long since missed it by '97, I still walked around there, amid the sparse clusters of disappointed tourists, with scary ideas in my head, daydreaming of hearing that clarion call to riot and turning into a righteous hellion. There's not much riot-worthy stuff down there, alas, but I'd be more than happy to wreck up the Sunglass Hut and then hole up in Dante's Down the Hatch for a nice continental fondue, a glass of fine Port, and a little light jazz before heading back upstairs to storm the barricades.

I've tried, half-heartedly, to riot on my own, but one-man rioting just comes off as another horse tranquilizer flip-out and my town's already the regional capital of that thrilling pastime, thanks to the nearby race track. I left work one day, feeling particularly riotous and disaffected, and was just down at the convenience store, picking up some twinkies and peach Nehi in hope that the sugar and artificial coloring would finally achieve the destructive effect on my nervous system that my mom always predicted and make me go nuts when I saw a little red pickup truck lurch to a stop right at the intersection of 5th and Main Street. The driver jumped out of his truck, looking wild-eyed and deliciously insane, and started kicking in the sides of the pickup, punching out his own side windows and leaping on the tailgate again and again until it broke off and dangled from one hinge like kid's loose tooth.

A small crowd gathered and I felt my face get hot, flushed with jealousy. The guy climbed onto the roof of the truck and started screaming crazy things about the government, and I knew I'd missed the boat again. I just stood there, watching him kick his windshield in, and tried to get up my nerve to make it a two-man riot, but I'd barely gotten farther than a slightly-elevated heart rate before he dived onto the roof of a Honda Civic driven by a foolish woman who'd thought maybe she could drive through the scene without being noticed. I saw her terrified expression as she lurched around the corner with the flip-out man spread-eagled on the roof of her car, reaching down with bloody hands to wrench her wiper blades into metal pretzels, and I thought "man, some people have all the luck."

It's been a lonely twelve years since I realized that my goal in life was to throw a newspaper box through the window of a McDonald's, and I've looked everywhere for a chance to get rowdy, haunting the malls at Christmas time, when Americans are at the peak of misanthropy, just hoping to find the perfect situation that can be aggravated into something raw and out of control, but no amount of needling angry, broad-assed women in luminous green stretch pants as they stand in the service line at Penney's ever seemed to amount to anything, so all my plans for looting went nowhere. I thought maybe I'd take up shoplifting, but it's not the same, alas.

Still, I walk every mall making a little mental list: okay, need one of those, that's on my looting agenda, and ooooh, a Craftsman torque wrench set with a comprehensive adaptor kit--I'm totally looting one of those. So many people take their looting for granted and head straight for the damn wide screen TVs, completely ignoring the camera and electronics counters. I'm sorry, but I'd much rather stuff my pants with digital Canons and iPods then get all sweaty and disheveled trying to cart a hundred pound Samsung out of the store. I mean, where's the cinematic imagination these days? The gasoline starts to burn and everyone's down at Sam's Club running through broken glass with economy-sized cases of toilet paper--what the hell is that about? You're carrying something the size of a small car, looking foolish, and in the end, you've only stolen six dollars worth of paper goods? Sheesh. I'm ashamed to be an American, some days.

I'm also careful to remember to plan my revenge attacks as I stroll through the mall. The local JC Penney's finally closed, but they were always top of my list, and I had a whole running monologue planned, perfectly timed out to my ballet-like dousing of the so-called "Big & Tall" department with liquid accelerants to the tune of a rousing call of "Come join me, my big fat brothers! We're not big & tall, we're big and FAT, and these fuckin' 38 waist pants ain't cuttin' it! Watch the misery burn, my beer-gutted, roly-poly compatriots, all this goddamn cast-off rave wear from four years ago, stupid faux football gear, and plaid flannel--I mean, who are we? Big burly men or fucking Big Mama Thorton impersonators! Burn, baby, BURN!" These days, I'm planning to head straight for the Clinique counter, where that girl is always there, the dirty little pusher who gives us those cute little tubes of revitalizing exfoliating daily facial scrub knowing damn well that it's exactly the same as giving a little kid on the playground their first set of training "works" and a little packet of starter horse. First it's the scrub, then the thirty-six dollar three-step moisturizing complex! All natural, hypo-allergenic, cruelty free? Let's see if it's non-flammable, too!

I watched the riot grrrls go for a while, hoping that I could put my hair up in ponytails, go mano I'm no man-o, and join a fierce-ass Ani Difranco or Sleater-Kinney tribute band, but girl power turns out to be all warm and joyous and embracing of our humanity in the end, dang it. What's that all about? I'm all for abortion rights, but if I'm out in public waving a damn coathanger, I wanna be whipping the crap out of Christina Crawford with it, not standing next to that nightmarish Whoopie Goldberg, listening to her prattle on and on and on until I want to strangle her with the yellow shirt that she used to pretend was her long, luxurious blond hair, back when she was still kinda funny and interesting--literally decades ago, now. It's enough to make me whip out my sage smudge sticks, dream catchers, and wicca power candles to try to bring the spirit of Valerie Solanas back from the great beyond for one more wild-ass rant. The failure of grrrl power to produce any worthwhile destruction is almost enough to make me put the "e" back when I write the word "men," but I'll keep the "y" for now. There's still hope. Maybe Lyndie England will become my new patron saint.

It's all enough to make you cry, really, the lack of rioting these days. I'd already been a foe of the WTO and international cabals of it's ilk when the riots hit Seattle, and I felt supervalidated by the possibility of being able to riot without having to join someone else's silly movement. By the time the protests started organizing in DC, I was ready, baby, ready. I forget exactly when it was now, but I showed up in DC in jeans and a black shirt, with a bandanna in my pocket and a little bottle of vinegar in case the tear gas got all oooky, but for a long, long time, it seemed like nothing fun would happen.

I worked my way through the crowd to the barricades, where bored DC cops stood in a firm defensive line many, many blocks from the thing we were ostensibly protesting, just weaseled my way closer and closer to the seats of power using the tactics I use to get to the stage at the 9:30 Club, and soon enough, I was right there, standing there in my rebel-without-a-cause getup (though I kinda did have a cause) with my hands on the galvanized bars of the movable fencing. All around me, angry teenyboppers with a dream shouted fun, meaningless things at the cops, but I was stuck face to face with one officer, almost flirting, really, and I couldn't bring myself to shout anything at that close range, let alone some stupid rhyme about third-world loan forgiveness. Mind you, looking him up and down in his curiously-attractive riot gear, I was tempted to chant, ever so quietly, "We're here, we're queer, here's my number, I'm versatile," but I held firm in my committment to the ideals of my movement in spite of anything that may have been going on in my pants at that point.

Almost, that is.

There was a noisy stir in the crowd, and I looked around, smiling like a giddy French schoolgirl, seeing movement all around me. All the sudden, people on all sides were pulling on bandit-style black kerchiefs and looking all serious and scornful, and the cops started to stomp in unison, lurching forward six inches at a time, carrying the galvanized fence with them as they moved. The pretty cop turned all steely in a way I'd have found irresistible if he wasn't bashing me in the shin with a big metal fence, and the shouting turned all cross and disagreeable and stopped rhyming. I looked around, thinking, "oh dear. I'm surrounded by anarchists again," and decided I suddenly felt like expressing my urge to riot in some other way.

"Um," I mumbled, my voice disappearing into the symphony of outrage, "I, um, need to go to the bathroom." A gangly boy in all black heard me and laughed.

"It's a little late for that, guy," he said. "Just piss where you're standing!"

I was shocked.

"I'm wearing suede shoes!"

I managed to shuffle backwards and to force my way out of the mob at the front just as the screaming started, and I saw things flying through the air as the voices rose in unison. I couldn't help but think that there was probably a hell of a lot of spittle accumulating behind all those black kerchiefs and wrinkle my nose a bit. I cleared the crowd right as the outburst died down, and was just turning away when I heard one girl screeching something in that kind of strangulated voice that means that she was also doing something physical and against the rules. I felt something splash across my back and turned to see her just as the last jet of mace ricocheted off her face and onto my shirt. That may have been the point at which the lifelong accumulation of the spirit of '68 finally cleared my bloodstream, and I stalked off to the Metro, feeling a lot of conflicting things.

As I rode the escalator down, the burning started to become unbearable, and as I stood on the platform waiting for my train, I finally just had to peel off my shirt, revealing angry red splotches where the mace was sizzling my lily-white skin. The other passengers rolled their eyes and I felt like the fattest person there, my beer gut dangling lasciviously for the whole world to see. "The mortification," I thought, and I knew right then that it was not a very riotous thought at all. I rode home shirtless, surrounded by a conspicuous safety zone of empty seats, my skin stinging like the dickens, feeling like I'd missed my one and only chance to honor the Situationists and all they stood for back in '68 with one tremendous burst of destructive energy, feeling like one more big pale fat guy riding the Metro with no shirt on instead of a latter-day Guy Debord.

In the end, I still make my lists, and I still dream of some kind of riot, but it's a quieter dream now, a dream of a subtler kind of riot, or maybe a more commercial one, where I find myself in Bloomingdales at Christmas, stuck in line behind a broad-assed woman in luminous stretch pants, who I needle and needle and provoke until she goes wild, starting a riot in the bedding department, and on that fine day, I'm gonna knock over the rack where they display all the pillowcases, pick up the two most expensive Ralph Lauren hypo-allergenic firm support feather pillows I can find, and run through the obstacle course of burning mattresses with 'em safe under my arms, hollering rebellious things in my best mock-French, escaping the melee to show up on a handsome man's doorstep with pillows in hand, saying, in my most come-hither voice, "I rioted these up just for you, baby."

What's life for if you can't dream?

So go, you gorgeous gallic dreamers, and let 'em have it in the grand manner, for those of us on the outside!
posted by sonascope at 3:49 AM on October 23, 2010 [85 favorites]


GYOB?
posted by crayz at 4:03 AM on October 23, 2010 [21 favorites]


La beauté est dans la rue, mais le singe est sur la branche...

In all seriousness though, we need more organized protests here in the US.
posted by CaptApollo at 4:12 AM on October 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's interesting that the youthful protesters of France don't appear to have the same unfortunate predilection for insipid and culturally-appropriated lopsided dreadlocks with crap braided into the fibrous morass that our kids so adore.
What the fuck are you talking about?
Yes, it marks me as a cranky old guy
Yeah, pretty much.

I remember once listening to a radio show where a guy was complaning about SNL. he said it was just Mike Myers, David Spade and Adam Sandler doing the same characters over and over. Except that it was well into the Will Ferrell era and those guys hadn't been on the show in like 3 or 4 years.
posted by delmoi at 4:18 AM on October 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


I thought that damned "giant scarf without a coat" thing was played out. Could it be the French are behind the US (chronologically) in terms of what's fashionable on the street?

Other thought: Those people look to be from a very specific slice of society. The majority of them are the French version of upper middle class youths acting as tourists to see what the crusty older/poorer people are getting on about.
posted by gjc at 4:18 AM on October 23, 2010


In all seriousness though, we need more organized protests here in the US.

Thus further diluting the strength of the protest...
posted by gjc at 4:19 AM on October 23, 2010


to see what the crusty older/poorer people are getting on about.

I don't think this demographic exists in France... in all seriousness, even the roadside hot roasted chestnut vendors had style
posted by The Lady is a designer at 4:21 AM on October 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


Could someone please explain to me how sonascope know this was going to be posted this morning so he could have this response, which must have taken days to write and edit, prepared in advance. Was this a plot? Is he, like, psychic or something?
posted by HuronBob at 4:25 AM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


This thread was worth it if only for the sentence ".....drifting over the Atlantic like radioactive clouds from Chernobyl, settling into the cow pastures of Maryland and seeping into our dairy products until it infiltrated my system."

Ever since that Russian babe rode the motorcycle into the wasteland, I've literally dreamed of finding this exact sentence in a metafilter comment to tie that epic journey into the fabric of Americana. My life is complete.
posted by HuronBob at 4:29 AM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Non non, the strike has been ongoing now for almost two weeks, plenty of time to prepare for the inevitable
posted by The Lady is a designer at 4:31 AM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


gjc by organized I mean nation-wide strikes, etc. (and not of the tea-party sort). I live in DC and am well aware how little a march or gathering matters. Here we just call them "traffic problems."
posted by CaptApollo at 4:35 AM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


"......well aware how little a march or gathering matters." Not always true.
posted by HuronBob at 4:50 AM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Other thought: Those people look to be from a very specific slice of society. The majority of them are the French version of upper middle class youths acting as tourists to see what the crusty older/poorer people are getting on about.

I don't know, they just look like French high school kids to me.
posted by atrazine at 4:52 AM on October 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


<DonLafontaine>Dans un monde... </DonLafontaine>
posted by blue_beetle at 4:54 AM on October 23, 2010 [6 favorites]


We Americans seem then
1. jealous that we do nothing like that here
2. amused that the French workers want a retirement age preserved that we have never come close to emulating.
3. a bit contemptuous of chicness of it all.

But: Most of Europe and the conservatives in America worry about the growing deficit...and so with that age-old cry:
WHAT IS TO BE DONE

Does protesting in the streets take care of a deficit issue?
posted by Postroad at 5:01 AM on October 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


yes. US deficit was created by politicians founding the military–industrial complex and some useless war.
posted by - at 5:06 AM on October 23, 2010




I'd like to say I watched the video, but once you've gone DVR, you can never watch a commercial again.
posted by digsrus at 5:31 AM on October 23, 2010


A little schadenfreude, I fear, has overtaken me with respect to the budget cuts in France and the UK. Mostly because I am so sick of European colleagues telling me how much more civilized their countries are because they publicly fund education, health care, etc. to a higher level than the US.

It's one big neoliberal race to the bottom. No one is exempt.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:48 AM on October 23, 2010 [8 favorites]




The only protests that happen in the US these days are the ones where people congregate to complain about black presidents promoting.

Oh yeah and that little get together in 2003 of hundreds of thousands of people against the Iraq war, but the media didn't really count that as anything much.
posted by Liquidwolf at 6:01 AM on October 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


I get the impression that all the rest of the MeFites in France are out like doing shit today or something. From my base in Paris, my personal concern on this level has been:

- a few neighborhoods I avoid at certain times because they are full of people party-- striking.
- a slightly earlier and slower train to work on a day-to-day basis, and being utterly screwed when I overslept one day and the next train to work wasn't for another hour and a half.
- much easier to make small talk with colleagues because we can talk about the strike
- recently, increased ambient stress as school vacation approaches and transportation is still kind of irregular
- lots of awesome stickers to send to friends overseas

Mostly, life goes on the same as it was before. And as always, the big picture has lovely images.

And as far as style, let me tell you guys about riding the metro where the guy across from me had one of those cool my-dick-is-so-big worn holes in the crotch of his jeans, the woman in the next row had her bra straps showing, and the guy across from her was wearing sweatpants. "Style" is as wanting and as present as it is in any big city. There may be fewer "muffin tops" and "whale tails" or what have you, but yeah, Paris is just like anywhere else.
posted by whatzit at 6:05 AM on October 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


I wouldn't last five minutes on a Gallic picket line. Every time they started chanting, "Oui! Oui!", I'd have to leave and go to the bathroom.

(It's the same thing whenever I hear Bruce Springsteen singing, "In the wee wee hours...")
posted by Mike D at 6:13 AM on October 23, 2010


Sonascope is having a laugh, right?


Right?
posted by paisley henosis at 6:15 AM on October 23, 2010


Well, the bra straps showing seems to be a style right now, with particular attention to make sure it isn't a matching bra
posted by Bovine Love at 6:17 AM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


We laugh, but not much else.
posted by Mr. Crowley at 6:24 AM on October 23, 2010


fourcheesemac: USA have a lot of deficit and it's not civilized as france, or any European nation. So, your schadenfreude...
posted by - at 6:26 AM on October 23, 2010


Everything is a bloody indie movie to young people.
posted by blook at 6:31 AM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's one big neoliberal race to the bottom.

It sure seems that way right now. Sadly, though, I think the US will maintain it's lead in that race by a significant margin.
posted by Forktine at 6:34 AM on October 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Thanks for Big Picture link, kliuless. Some amazing shots there. The comments are also interesting, representing viewpoints from many different countries.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 6:35 AM on October 23, 2010


I'd like to say I watched the video, but once you've gone DVR, you can never watch a commercial again.

There are these things called tabs, see...
posted by mediareport at 6:47 AM on October 23, 2010


These kids look like they're having the time of their lives.
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:48 AM on October 23, 2010


Just left France on Wednesday from Lyon, which has been the hotbed of the hardcore protesting.
On Tuesday we passed giant groups of highschool kids marching to Place Bellecour to protest. On our way back across town we glimpsed Bellecour through a side street and saw the clouds of tear gas and rampant fighting.
Shortly after we took a bus out (because none of the trains were running) is when they started overturning cars and setting them on fire.
I think it's great that the French get so worked up about their working conditions. It's things like this that are the reason they have a 35 hour workweek, five weeks paid vacation, public health care and retirement at 60.
I just wish they hadn't been voting on this particular issue when my wife and I were trying to take our honeymoon.
After spending roughly eight hours a day in train stations for a week solid, just trying to get tickets to SOMEWHERE, we decided to say f*** it and took a bus to Geneva. Then flew to Amsterdam.
By the time I had returned five different tickets, on five different days because they were invalid mere hours after purchasing them, dodging violent protests and trying to calm my wife down about the whole affair, I just decided we needed to get the hell out of France.
----------------------------------------------
As far as the chic thing goes:
That really is what most high school students (at least in the more bourgeois areas) in France look like. Everyone really is much more stylish there. There are actually menswear stores, instead of tiny departments in much larger stores completely devoted to women, and men can dress snappily without their sexuality coming in to question. It's just a different cultural climate as far as style.
That being said, it's not like EVERYONE is well dressed. Get out of Paris--especially to the south of France--and you will definitely see lots of Adidas track suits, football jerseys and high and tight, military style haircuts.
posted by kaiseki at 6:52 AM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


We must raise the retirement age as people live longer but Sarkozy's plans will be a disaster.

France's retirement system has the major problem that half a retirement of domain A plus half a retirement of domain B will not give you the full retirement from either domain. Instead, they've tried patching up these holes glaring holes by granting younger retirements for dangerous domains.

Sarkozy's retirement reform does not address the real demographic issue because it worsens this 1/2 + 1/2 < 1 problem, well that's how it saves so much money.

Any real reform must begin by challenging this underlying assumption that people will work the same job their whole lives. Yes, that'll cost more at first, but less now than later.

Btw, Sarkozy will create even more unemployment among the young. And people are also really ticked that he's simultaneously cut taxes for the rich.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:00 AM on October 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


I don't understand. Why aren't they wearing zombie costumes?

Ohhhh because France is a country where you can get people to organize something other than a Tea Party rally or Improv Anywhere stunt.
posted by Legomancer at 7:02 AM on October 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'd like to think we might protest the cuts in the UK, but it's hard when there's so much to protest.

"Don't take money from the disabled."

Er

"Don't take money from the unemployed."

Or

"Don't force women out of work."

Or

"Don't raise the retirement age."

Or

"Don't cut housing benefit."

Or

"Don't price kids out of education."

I suppose we could just go for:

"Don't dismantle the welfare state."

I can get behind that one.
posted by Summer at 7:07 AM on October 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


The subject of the French protests/strikes came up on the Diane Rehm show yesterday and the response on the part of her guests (it was the Friday news roundtable) was very telling. They all, to a person, decried the strike as irresponsible. One guest went so far as to state that since the government had been democratically elected, the protests were, somehow, an illegitimate approach to the issue. The inference was made that the protesters should only make their grievances known at the ballot box. That protests and strikes were somehow childish.

It was an amazingly disappointing moment.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:19 AM on October 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


One of the many reasons these strikes are popular is the Woerth-Bettencourt affair. Eric Woerth is the former Minister of Budget and treasurer of Sarkozy's UMP party and the current Minister of Labor. He's in charge of the pension reform. His wife was, until recently, in charge of managing the US$20 billion fortune of Liliane Bettencourt, the 88-year old L'Oreal heiress. Bettencourt is suspected of massive tax evasion and of sending envelopes full of cash to the UMP treasurer (i.e. Eric Woerth) prior to the 2007 presidential race.
So Woerth is involved in the following (alleged) schemes: 1) rigging the 2007 election through illegal financing, and 2) helping the richest woman in Europe to cheat on her taxes, either directly or by looking the other way. He denies everything, as expected, even the rather obvious conflicts of interest. And now he's supposed to convince the French that there won't be any money left for pensions if the pension system is not reformed. Which may be true, except that there's the lingering feeling that the only people who will ever have to pay and sweat for the reform will be the poor and the middle-class, not the rich and super-rich.
posted by elgilito at 7:27 AM on October 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


We got to Lyon on Wednesday and are still here. On Thursday we were walking near the Place Bellecour and it was blocked by police. They were very civil and just told us that we would have to go around. There was nothing of note going on around the city - we spent the afternoon walking around much of the Presqu´Ile.

This has been another lesson for us in how the media loves to overblow things. We have been in Lyon - the hotbed of protests - for four days and hardly noticed much change. (I dont know how to reconcile my experience with that of kaiseki) Also:

- We came to France from Italy. My mother-in-law who knew we were heading to France and renting a car SMSed us with "THERE IS NO PETROL IN FRANCE!!" The reality was that about 1 in 5 gas stations is closed. Thats right - 1 in 5.

- There is also a railway strike. This affected us because we actually had decided to take a train from Turin to Lyon and then pick up our car in Lyon. Our evening train we had pre-booked was not running because of the strike but the morning train was running - there were only 2 trains a day on this route. So we had to take the train the next morning instead. SNCF is also running a lot of replacement bus services for many train routes that are not running.

- The strikes. When we were having breakfast in Les Halles here in Lyon, the people next to us were talking about how one overturned car in Lyon by a bunch of rowdy youths suddenly became iconic. Yes, a car was overturned. You have seen it. It is yellow. The whole world has seen it over and over.

Anyways, we went to Place Bellecour on Friday when it was re-opened. It was full of people - having tea at Pignol, buying books at In Cuisine and so on. There were a couple broken windows being repaired but it was far from a scene of devastation.

Oh, and the young students are very cute here in Lyon. They do dress well. There was a cafe full of them in Vieux Lyon, either having an espresso or an aperitif, which my wife thought was adorable.
posted by vacapinta at 7:29 AM on October 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


I thought that damned "giant scarf without a coat" thing was played out. Could it be the French are behind the US (chronologically) in terms of what's fashionable on the street?

Oh, you did not! Are you really proposing to get into a style throw down with Parisian teens? What's next, challenging the kids of Harajuku to a fashion-off?
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:30 AM on October 23, 2010 [8 favorites]


> We got to Lyon on Wednesday and are still here.

I just love that Metafilter now has "on the ground reporting", by mods, no less. Now that's class.

Glad to hear you two are still able to have fun with all the potential ruckus.
posted by qwip at 7:48 AM on October 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


With the UK being eviscerated by it's goverment and people just looking on in stunned disbelief I can now only admire the French proclivity for striking and rioting at the drop of a hat.
posted by Artw at 8:13 AM on October 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


What aggravates me the most is that almost every U.S. press report I've run across on this gets it wrong. If you believe U.S. journalists, the entire country is retiring at 60 with full benefits, which is not true. Thanks heavens for Dean Baker to call them out, at least.
posted by gimonca at 8:14 AM on October 23, 2010


Get out of Paris--especially to the south of France--and you will definitely see lots of Adidas track suits, football jerseys and high and tight, military style haircuts.

I was driving through some little town in the Gers last year, and out of the boulangerie comes the dad of a family carrying the day's big, long stereotyped loaf of bread. And wearing Zubaz. It can happen.

posted by gimonca at 8:21 AM on October 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


fourcheesemac: It's one big neoliberal race to the bottom. No one is exempt.

Can I ask everyone to pause, empty your minds of any particular political bias or conviction, for just a few seconds, and consider the following?

I get it that no, the future didn't bring us flying cars or personal jet-packs, and we haven't yet got household robots (Roombas notwithstanding), but is it entirely unreasonable to have expected that one goal of developing technology and amassing wealth and improving health was to maybe REDUCE the number of years the average person HAS to work, not to INCREASE them?

I can't speak for anyone else, but I didn't intentionally choose a lifestyle or elect a government that would result in losing 2 or more years off of my anticipated retirement. I appreciate that some countries have been overoptimistic in their social programs, but even in my country (Canada) with its massive reserves of resources and land, the government has already started making noises about raising the retirement age.

I'm calling foul (and bullshit). If the 'system' can't reasonably support holding the line on retirement age, then the system is run by crooks, or it needs an overhaul. First, have a good long look at the capital vacuumed up by corporations and the top one or two percent of earners, then let's have a ponder about what is being spent by our governments on what.

When the military budget is below a half of what it currently is, and most coroporations are nationalized or at least taxed fairly, THEN come to me about raising my retirement age. Tea-partier or marxist, we should agree that our retirement age is not negotiable.

(and seconding gimonca - the normal retirement age in France is currently 65. In France, as in the United States. )
posted by Artful Codger at 8:50 AM on October 23, 2010 [17 favorites]


(please excuse the lousy cut/paste; the last para should have been

The normal retirement age in France is currently 65. In France, as in the United States, most workers start collecting benefits shortly after reaching the early retirement age.


ta)
posted by Artful Codger at 8:54 AM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


A little schadenfreude, I fear, has overtaken me with respect to the budget cuts in France and the UK. Mostly because I am so sick of European colleagues telling me how much more civilized their countries are because they publicly fund education, health care, etc. to a higher level than the US.

It's one big neoliberal race to the bottom. No one is exempt.


Heh. Of course, when people are in favour of cutting public services guess whose country they hold up as an example of how things should be?

That's right: You are the bottom.
posted by Artw at 8:56 AM on October 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Could someone please explain to me how sonascope know this was going to be posted this morning so he could have this response, which must have taken days to write and edit, prepared in advance. Was this a plot? Is he, like, psychic or something?

He's warming up for NaNoWriMo. It's 1,500 words a day on average, and you just go in with nothing and blast out whatever comes into your head.
posted by Naberius at 9:03 AM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


In France, as in the United States, most workers start collecting benefits shortly after reaching the early retirement age.

What's that mean?
posted by smackfu at 9:06 AM on October 23, 2010


It bugs me that this spleen is being vented at the government when the real problem is the influential rich. Change doesn't come until the genuinely wealthy feel threatened.
posted by Fuka at 9:12 AM on October 23, 2010 [6 favorites]


in the paris Metro I saw the most sterotypical french scene. Young woman balanced on heels, attempting to talk on her phone while juggling cigarettes, a chanel clutch, and a bagette.

aalso, the reaction to the protests in the states smack of Stockholm syndrome.
posted by The Whelk at 9:13 AM on October 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


That Big Picture link is fantastic. Though the caption writer really needs to get a grip and stop referring to young protestors of whose dress and deportment he approves as "French high school students" while calling those he doesn't care for "youths."
posted by enn at 9:14 AM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


protesters damn it
posted by enn at 9:16 AM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


What you forget regarding the retirement age and benefits is that demographically most of the countries with these kind of social benefits are aging rapidly and not replacing working age tax paying citizens. Unless they finally embrace their banlieus
posted by The Lady is a designer at 9:17 AM on October 23, 2010


They'll elegantly take over the Bastille next.
posted by orange swan at 9:27 AM on October 23, 2010


That video was weirdly cognitively dissonant for me. On the one hand, I was pretty sure it was actual footage of the protesters, but on the other the quality of the film (film-like, not video-like) and something about the editing and sound made it seem like a scene out of a movie. Strange.
posted by kmz at 9:27 AM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Mais c'est sur, the French have something going on fashion-wise, the en masse effect of which seems more sophisticated than what's going on in Anglo-American societies, but I actually find their style to be kind of wack. Here in Montreal, where French tourists and students abound, it's uncannily easy to pick them out. It would be difficult to describe exactly what marks them, but the young men, at least, are still wearing a lot of screenprinted stuff, pastels, big-ass scarves, and often sport Justin Bieber-type doos. Where the French do excel (and the middle-class Québécois) is in not surrendering to the ravages of time while somehow appearing not to be desperately fighting them either.

As for the protests: GO TEAM!
posted by Roachbeard at 9:44 AM on October 23, 2010


Correction: The French Senate has voted to raise the country's retirement age from 60 to 62
BBC.
This is the minimum age pension as opposed to full pension.
Dinner ladies lead the fight for pension cuts. A little more on the French pension system.
posted by adamvasco at 9:44 AM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


It bugs me that this spleen is being vented at the government when the real problem is the influential rich.

Because a government like this is more than just another tool of the influential rich?
posted by xqwzts at 9:46 AM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


When this first started, I did my typical British "Bloody French, striking again!" scoff. Then I saw the UK budget with its murderous assault of the welfare state and I'm starting to think that the French are right.
posted by ob at 10:10 AM on October 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


God, I love the French. There's a people who aren't afraid to get bloody stroppy when their government pisses them off. Vive la France!
posted by Decani at 10:13 AM on October 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


Ha, I probably wondered through one of those marches (I suspect, given the recurrence of certain landmarks, that this is a compilation of a few marches). I would have been walking from Saint-Michel down to Raspail, so intersecting one of them. Doesn't look like the Saturday one, as that happens nearer Republique (north of the river), or so I'm told.

General thoughts:
- The political awareness of the vast majority of French students is awesome. I'm sol glad that they have an opinion and are acting on it. The UK and US could probably use some of that engagement.
- Paris is generally a well-dressed city, but also remember that it looks like that march was through a more central area. The heavier stuff in Paris has been happening out in the banlieus, which are slightly rougher.
- sonascope, proportionately there's very little rioting. It's mostly marches, stickers and flyers. I can't speak for Lyon (which seems like a rougher place in general than Paris, given my experiences of it) or the banlieus, but the biggest inconvenience centrally has been the reduced Metro and RER service.
- There has been a highly visible police presence. I walked past what I think was a school by Place des Vosges today, and there were police outside due to a sit-in/out protest (extra marks for effort given that half term started on Friday).
- Having spoken to a few of my French friends, the consensus is that whilst the retirement proposals triggered this, it's actually more of a reflection of the opinion of Sarkozy and his policies.
- The strikes and marches are really sporadic. Apparently they're being hampered by a law prohibiting back-to-back strikes or something like that (maybe by the transport workers, I don't really know).
- The weather has been cold but bright recently. Had a massive downpour this afternoon, so I'll be interested to see if the same numbers turn out for the next planned strike if the weather is equally foul.
posted by djgh at 11:33 AM on October 23, 2010


I've always hypothesized that the reason the French demonstrate so much (well, other than the fact that going to a demonstration is mandated to be a totally legitimate excuse to miss work or school) is that their language just works better in that respect. There is no pithy English equivalent to a phrase like "venez nombreux", for example ("come one come all" is a bit wishy washy in comparison), and the word "manifestation" (or "manif") seems much more powerful and positive than demonstration or riot. Maybe there's just a more immediate sense of social consciousness and responsibility than we have here in North America and the language tends to reflect that.
posted by Go Banana at 11:53 AM on October 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


I used to think that saying "le manif" is a way of life in France was an insult; I've started to rethink that. The possibility to take part in a "manifestion", to voice your discontent, is a right and should be protected.

Our car is stuck two hours away, in Amiens: it ran out of petrol on Monday and my husband had to take a train home from teaching - but there were trains that day. My six-year old came home yesterday from his Parisian school to make signs for all of us, with the word "manifestation" written on them, so we could march around the house. His big brother, one of those glamorous high-school students, has marched and barricaded his school. We talked to him for a long time about why he was involved, and while I still think he doesn't really see, I think none of us do, and I was really impressed with how he could articulate why he was taking part and the alternatives the government could look to for creating change in more imaginative, fair ways.

It has been hard for many people, and I may not agree with all of the methods of all of the unions, but I do agree with the sentiment, of not letting the government decide everything without acknowledging the voice of its people.
posted by bwonder2 at 12:00 PM on October 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


Sitting here in the U.S. these strikes seem so bizarre to me that they are almost unreal. My brain can't process how completely awesome the French must be. I see the pictures and it looks like your government was seized by a military coup or something and you're fighting to wrest control of your administration back from some evil dictator. And then I read that you're actually pissed about the retirement age, which completely baffles me. As a twenty-something USian, "retirement age" is filed in the same mental box as other ridiculous notions like "receiving social security" and "prescription drug coverage" and "viable third party." I'm green with envy. Fight you wild, glorious French people! Defend your right to retire at some point!
posted by Baby_Balrog at 12:10 PM on October 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


It has been hard for many people, and I may not agree with all of the methods of all of the unions, but I do agree with the sentiment, of not letting the government decide everything without acknowledging the voice of its people.

You realize you're channeling Voltaire?

The French showed the world what the people could do when they'd had enough, why should they stop now?
posted by The Lady is a designer at 12:18 PM on October 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


fourcheesemac: USA have a lot of deficit and it's not civilized as france, or any European nation. So, your schadenfreude...
posted by -


That's oddly eponysterical, but what?

I'm not really trying to compare the USA and France.

But "it's not as civilized as France" as a flat out statement of fact? Mon dieu!

I dig that the bread is better, and the French have philosophers on TV and no problem with men having three mistresses at once, all things I admire and consider civilized. But the fact of the matter is France ain't shit.
posted by fourcheesemac at 1:44 PM on October 23, 2010


Hah. We'll show those Frenchies how to take it laying down.
posted by telstar at 1:57 PM on October 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


enn: "Though the caption writer really needs to get a grip and stop referring to young protestors of whose dress and deportment he approves as "French high school students" while calling those he doesn't care for "youths.""

Image 31 shows "high school students" dressed (and tanned) fairly similarly to the "youths" in image 20. I think the captions actually has something to do with whether the captionist knows who/what is the subject of the (a high school rally, a high school blockade) or not (turning over a hapless Twingo), rather than implicit racism.
posted by brokkr at 2:22 PM on October 23, 2010


In all seriousness though, we need more organized protests here in the US.

Let's call FreedomWorks
posted by the noob at 2:37 PM on October 23, 2010


This won't work in the States. 99% of the population lives outside the city. Are we supposed to rally together and march on the local strip mall? "Fuck you, Taco Bell, and your capitalist masters!" No. And are we just going to get into our cars and drive to the protest? Then you gotta find parking… what a hassle.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:23 PM on October 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


i am increasingly conviced the american class system is a highly stylized form of s&m and we're all bottoms.
posted by The Whelk at 5:37 PM on October 23, 2010 [10 favorites]


A Lady posted: What you forget regarding the retirement age and benefits is that demographically most of the countries with these kind of social benefits are aging rapidly and not replacing working age tax paying citizens.

I am a part of that aging demographic, so... no I do not forget. And hey, ye olde aging demografick didn't just start looking lopsided yesterday. So... who fucked this up?

I have not done the numbers yet, but at its simplest, the task is to compare retirement and health projected shortfalls, and compare them with current and projected outlays for everything else, including defense. Also compare it with taxes lost through cuts and loopholes. And, for added outrage, compare it with losses caused by the financial implosion of the last couple of years.

Also, no-one has seriously looked at the potential benefits of a healthy retired population - more opportunity for new workers, added volunteerism, more help for education and daycare, more mentoring, a new market...

To those who say that today's retirees are robbing tomorrow's workers, I say that the robbery's already happened, but the robbers haven't gotten far yet; we may still be able to catch them and recover some of the loot.
posted by Artful Codger at 7:28 PM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's one big neoliberal race to the bottom. No one is exempt.

One of the more depressing things I've seen in regards to the French strike is the American reaction - which seems to be "We don't get those benefits, so why the hell should they?". To me, the appropriate reaction is "We don't get those benefits? Why the hell not? Let's also take to the streets and riot until we do."

This bothers me, because I've seen this a lot lately in all aspects of American debate. Health care reform was the first time I really started noticing it, at least on such a large scale. Someone has better benefits than you? Let's take them away. Why is no one asking what we can do instead to extend those benefits/rights/what-have-you to everyone? Why has our notion of equality been "knock 'em down to equal footing"? Why isn't the response "We all need to be treated better."?
posted by [insert clever name here] at 10:12 PM on October 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


This won't work in the States. 99% of the population lives outside the city.

Did you just time travel to... uh... I don't even know when that would have been true. Most Americans live in relatively large cities, and I'm not talking about suburbs.
posted by Justinian at 10:14 PM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Artful Codger>
but is it entirely unreasonable to have expected that one goal of developing technology and amassing wealth and improving health was to maybe REDUCE the number of years the average person HAS to work, not to INCREASE them?

Yes, probably. It seems to make much less sense to reduce the number of working years as people are living not only longer, but healthier.

>
Also, no-one has seriously looked at the potential benefits of a healthy retired population - more opportunity for new workers, added volunteerism, more help for education and daycare, more mentoring, a new market...

Is this really retirement? Retire at an early age, as long as you're still willing to work, maybe for free!

I have not done the numbers yet,

That is not a small detail to be overlooked. Can anyone make any worthwhile proclamations over the issue without looking at the numbers? It seems very unlikely that proposals to raise retirement age are done without some very serious delving into the factors that make such a system possible. If preservation of a welfare system seems a perfectly laudable goal then sometimes significant choices have to be made to keep it solvent. In places such as France (and the US) where such systems are enormously popular, policymakers rarely make such proposals because they're a bunch of meanies. More often than not, they are made for the sake of the very existence of the programs.
posted by 2N2222 at 1:27 AM on October 24, 2010


fourcheesemac: USA have a lot of deficit and it's not civilized as france, or any European nation. So, your schadenfreude...

Come, come. Surely we can all agree that the Americans are at least as civilised as the Belgians!
posted by atrazine at 1:49 AM on October 24, 2010


Artful Codger,

Well, even after taking into account the raising of the early retirement age to 62, people still have much longer post retirement lives now than they did when these ages were first set. I agree though that it would be nice to redistribute more of our gains as a civilisation to early retirements and shorter working hours throughout life.

Is this really retirement? Retire at an early age, as long as you're still willing to work, maybe for free!

Of course what makes something "work" is often the relationship between the worker and the job rather than the nature of the activity. While there aren't any volunteer garbagemen, there are people who do for free and for fun things that other people do only for money. Anything that you have to do 40+ hours a week or go hungry can rapidly become unpleasant.

Also I have to agree that the protests are very much about the loss of Sarkozy's popular mandate. Many people are not happy with cuts in the UK, but a lot of people did vote for a Conservative party which said they would cut expenses. In fact, everyone who voted for one of the big three English parties voted for such a party. The disagreements over timing and incidence of the cuts, and whether they should be coupled with new taxes on the very wealthy are legion, but at the end of the day the British government is considered legitimate by the population as a whole. Sarkozy on the other hand would be destroyed if there were fresh elections today. Governments which are unpopular should not make these difficult decisions.
posted by atrazine at 2:01 AM on October 24, 2010


But the fact of the matter is France ain't shit.
What's this supposed to mean in a thread about France?
posted by bystander at 2:13 AM on October 24, 2010


fourcheesemac: I am so sick of European colleagues telling me how much more civilized their countries are because they publicly fund education, health care, etc. to a higher level than the US.

But the fact of the matter is France ain't shit.


How is that in any way a relevant, intelligent or useful comment? I'm not even sure what it's supposed to mean!

From your posts in the past, I got the impression that you were a pretty decent person whose opinions on, especially, first nations I have generally agreed with.

So why this sudden needless sniping at France?

It sometimes seems like a lot of Americans - even left-wing, broad-minded ones - are absolutely incapable of shaking the propaganda they have been taught from childhood - that, no matter what, America is the best country in the world at everything.

I've lost count of the number of times that an American has needlessly, petulantly taken offence at the mere suggestion that another country does something better than America - or even differently, but just as well - and immediately lashed out, trying to belittle whoever threatens their sense of superiority.

It's disappointing to see.
posted by lucien_reeve at 4:07 AM on October 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


But the fact of the matter is France ain't shit.

This seems pointlessly, and uselessly, belligerent.
posted by Wolof at 5:38 AM on October 24, 2010


2N2222 (what a great handle! I have a drawer full of you and your cousins)

Of course the numbers are essential; I needed to put the viewpoint out there, and hope that I could do some research later, or that people would have some relevant links.

You're missing my main points though. Probably my fault, so let me try harder:
1) no-one's looking hard enough at why the aging demographic wasn't anticipated and funded properly, or where the money's gone.Maybe it is too late, but still, we need to know.

2) if we (and our systems) are not working as a broad aim for the betterment of mankind (that sounds so '50s), and producing results, ,then ... why not? Is it really just about consuming as much as possible then you die?

Jacking the retirement age is of course an immediately understood answer, but it's not the only one. The North American way of doing things is currently only bringing wealth to a relative few, and working conditions have gotten a bit worse for the rest of us. This ain't progress. unless you be one of the wealthy.

Is this really retirement? Retire at an early age, as long as you're still willing to work, maybe for free!

I'm no fan of traditional retirement - working steady til 65, then nuttin... it's killed more than a few people. Successful retirement requires some sort of structure and continued social involvement and stimulation. I am currently getting eddificated for what i consider will be my retirement 'career' - boat maintenance. no shit. A few days a week,hanging around boats. I can't wait! But it's about freedom - to have earned the time to do what you want (working, golfing, teaching, whatever), after working for XX years. Jumping the time to XX + 2 isn't progress.

Also, you refer to retirement as 'welfare'. Scuse me? Isn't retirement a given part of a civilized society's contract with its workers, whether via a state pension, or through private retirement plans?

I realize that some sacrifices need to be made to preserve some economies. Hey, i'm perfectly happy to sacrifice the entire financial sector. ;^). We can burn bankers for warmth; I hear they smell like Cohibas and Chivas.
posted by Artful Codger at 9:19 AM on October 24, 2010


USA have a lot of deficit and it's not civilized as france, or any European nation.

Point of fact: There are some countries over there on the right side of the map of Europe that you might want to take a closer look at. Heck, there are even several on the good end that are only very recently not completely fucked up.

As for France, well, jeez. As much good as their perennial power-to-the-people tantrums are indeed quite capable of, there's also a bit of a not-so-great side to them, too: The guillotine, for example, or Pol Pot.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:28 PM on October 24, 2010


France isn't shit. France is a fascinating country with a rich history.

Neither is America shit.

Or any other country you might happen to name. Countries are more than whatever government is currently in power, and more than whatever pop song is topping the charts this week. Countries are made up of people, and lots of people are awesome.

Also, nearly 80% of US residents live in an urban area.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:15 PM on October 24, 2010


Sidhedevil: Also, nearly 80% of US residents live in an urban area.

Which includes anyone living in an area of more than 2,500 people. That number drops all the way down to 58% when you only count areas of over 200k people.
posted by paisley henosis at 3:22 PM on October 24, 2010


Fair enough, paisley henosis, and thanks for refining the granularity there! I was responding to the assertion that "99% of the US lives outside the city" upthread.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:29 PM on October 24, 2010


Hooray for the French Working People! Aside from bouts of violence this is very inspiring. I'd like to see public school teachers and administrators do this in the U.S., that is strike for a couple of weeks to get Uncle Sam off their backs so they can get back to teaching.

Vive La France!
posted by snsranch at 3:45 PM on October 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


1) no-one's looking hard enough at why the aging demographic wasn't anticipated and funded properly, or where the money's gone.Maybe it is too late, but still, we need to know.
I don't think this is misunderstood or mysterious. A government (*) sees a shortfall in pension funds. The impact will be decades from now. The election is months (or perhaps a year or two) from now.They can raise the rates, but it will be strongly disliked by the populace. The opposition will use it as a lever. Long term consequences or short term consequences (raise rates/taxes, get the boot)? Also, many governments basically raided their long term social programs in order to make current (at the time) deficits look good. This is essentially a flaw in the accounting that is allowed (one should not be allowed to essentially reverse amortize decades to the present), but governments are loathe to change it because it is so handy.

It is, of sorts, a tragedy of the commons. A better informed and thoughtful populace can help and at least the french seem very aware of it, even if they are a little late to the party (the rest of us are very late....)

(*) I am using government here, but in actual fact many corporations are in essentially the exact same position w.r.t. pensions, particularly after legislative change a while back that allowed them to be more loose in that regard.
posted by Bovine Love at 6:00 PM on October 24, 2010


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