Thursday, November 12, 2009

Grève grievance

The RER, or the train lines intersecting the metro that I take to get around the city, has been “en grève” (striking) for about a week now. This follows a similar but not as extensive strike that happened two weeks ago. The first time the strike just meant that there were fewer trains running, so you might have to wait ten minutes to catch a train that, during rush hour, was packed to capacity (seriously….you haven’t seen a full train until you’ve seen one here. The entire car sucks in their collective gut so the door can close). Now the strike has evolved to mean that trains only run from the outskirts of the city (the RER’s all service the Parisian suburbs, and are big commuter trains) to the first big hub, which for me is only one stop away. The result is that I’m waiting for a full train for up to 20 minutes, which takes me exactly one stop up to where I can transfer to lines 4 or 6.

Luckily, this is all I need to get to class. But being cut off from the big hubs of Chatelet and Gare du Nord is making it particularly difficult to go just about anywhere else.

However, any frustration I may feel towards this inconvenience disappears when I witness the good-humored shrugs of my fellow passengers. Unlike in the States, where striking is disorderly, disruptive, largely unproductive and potentially volatile, here it is fairly commonplace—expected, even. Striking is a means to an end, the end being social change, and it the French can’t imagine an economy without it. A minimum level of function is ensured during all strikes, so there’s no need to panic. In the meantime, in the French mindset the inconvenience is just that—an inconvenience— that is improving someone else’s wages and life, and there are plenty of buses and metros to take to compensate. When I took a bus home the other day to avoid a rush hour sardine syndrome on the limited trains, I found the bus just as packed with people seeking the same alternative. In America, such crowds usually produce at least a base level of stress and hostility, but everyone joked about the strikes even as the elbows of strangers were digging into their chests, and when a mother needed to board, the entire bus managed to squeeze into itself to accommodate her stroller.


  1. Strikes? Now? I thought spring in Paris was the season for strikes.

  2. I think that in France EVERY season is strike season. Although I do remember from the last time I was here that there's one particular day in in the spring that was "strike day" (and everyone knew about it except us americans...and we waited alone for twenty minutes at a bus stop before we started to get suspicious). I'll see if it gets worse in spring.