AIX-EN-PROVENCE, France - The French people strike like crazy – and to me, a typical American, it’s borderline ridiculous.
That said, the most a strike has ever affected me was when I lost interest in “Grey’s Anatomy” during the writers’ strike my freshman year. I could say I mourned the loss long after, but it would be a blatant lie.
But these guys? They all strike. All of them. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some complicated algorithm far outside my realm of understanding dictating when each subset of the French population gets its moment to clock out and picket.
Here’s a prime example. Just before I wrote this column, I logged onto the Web site of
La Provence, the regional paper, just to see if there was news of a for-instance strike I could use.
Of course, I’m in France, so the most prominent story was about a strike in Marseille with the headline, “Une greve paralyse la collecte des dechets dans les rue de Marseille.”
“Strike paralyzes trash collection on the streets of Marseille.”
Apparently Bronzo, a waste collection firm in the coastal city, will be reorganizing city cleaning and trash pickup, spiking concern among its employees, who are striking for the assurance that their wages and benefits will go unaffected.
Were I living in Marseille, I’d at the very least be massively grossed out, and assuming I’d be surrounded by like-minded people, I’d expect chaos.
The French, however, greet these situations with perfect nonchalance for two reasons.
One, strikes and protests are practically as French as a daily baguette; and two, in the land of berets and silly mustaches, strikes and protests work.
The cross-cultural difference in attitudes toward such demonstrations is striking.
In France, protests and strikes are seen as perfectly valid methods of expressing unrest and bringing social issues to light.
In the United States, on the other hand, protesters and strikers seem to be viewed more as obnoxious, eccentric, whiny wannabe radicals.
And I can’t put my finger on why.
Are Americans just that much more complacent?
Do we view our authority figures as having so much power that it would be pointless to rebel?
Have we so much faith in our elected officials that we think they’ll make the changes we want without us prompting them to – that our role in the political process ends once our leader of choice is elected?
Both the French and Americans are clearly aware of their respective society’s flaws, for we share the common thread of ceaseless complaint.
But it’s us that can’t seem to take a step beyond it.
Though I don’t consider myself patriotic, coming to France has shown me that, despite all its shortcomings, I do love America, and if I’m lucky, I’ll have been equipped with the tools to help better it when I get back.
The question remains, though – who among my compatriots will be similarly