Forget the weather, the only acceptable topic of small-talk in Paris for about a fortnight now has been les grèves – aka the strikes. You don’t have to be living in France to have heard about them; it was via my family in England I first found out there’d been any kind of violence from protestors. The British press LOVES reporting on minor political chaos overseas these days. Can’t possibly imagine why. When things with the gilets jaunes (yellow vests) were at their worst a year ago, the broadcasts in the UK made it look like the entire city of Paris had been engulfed by some kind of hellish inferno. Things were quite bad in patches, granted – but nothing like the media abroad was trying to make out.
Anyway, the point is, you’re quite possibly aware that Paris pretty much ground to a standstill a couple of weeks ago and has obstinately refused to get going again since.* A whole gamut of different professions/services has been on strike, but the one that’s really causing problems for most of the city is the transport. Main line trains and a fair few flights have been affected, but within Paris, public transport is almost non-existent at the moment – and in a city where almost no-one owns a car, that’s somewhat problematic. Of course, it’s causing issues for the drivers too, because obviously, anyone who DOES have a car is certainly using it. Come rush hour, therefore, the roads are an absolute nightmare.
I got back from a few days in Budapest yesterday and it genuinely took me longer to get from the airport to my (central-Paris) apartment, than it took for me to get from Budapest to flipping Paris. (Two and a half hours, instead of the usual hour-and-ten. Not impressed.) Currently, the WhatsApp group with my Parisian girlfriends is pretty much just an endless stream of similar such stories: comparing the absurd durations of our respective commutes, sharing photos of jam-packed train carriages and platforms, and complaining with increasing resentment about just how inconvenienced our lives are right now. So, not only are the grèves ruining all our social plans (because, you know, nobody can get anywhere), they’re even impeding our virtual conversations.
Work is strange too. The office has never been so quiet, just because half my colleagues can’t – or won’t risk trying to – make it in. A peaceful working space might sound like an advantage, but when a number of the aforementioned colleagues also happen to be some of your best friends (who you are accustomed to, and enjoy, seeing every day, thank you very much) it’s really not. I worked from home for a couple of days when it all kicked off, but after two days working alone in my apartment followed by two almost-housebound weekend days, I was starting to feel like I might go a little stir-crazy if I didn’t get out and engage in some actual human contact. I was actually so keen for the social aspect of the office, I dragged myself out of bed on a Monday morning when I really could have done with the extra couple of hours sleep afforded by home-working, and braved the absolutely driving rain, walking for almost 45 minutes and enduring a seriously sardine-esque situation on the tram.
On the plus side, I finally got to tear of the tag and wear the wellies** I bought a year and a half ago, and had left languishing dustily in my wardrobe ever since. Oh, and it’s unprecedentedly easy to get a table in the canteen at the moment.
But before we get too into the silver linings there… our Christmas soiree amongst friends was curtailed to about an hour after work (for the few of us who could even attend); the office party got cancelled; no-one can finish their gift shopping; half the post offices are closed (also problematic for gift shopping); everyone’s panicking about whether their flights/trains will be running to get them home for next week (expat problems)… and it takes bloody hours to go anywhere.
So, to conclude, it’s safe to say the grèves are ruining just about everything. Vive la France.
It’s a bloody good job the food is so good.
* Yes, I know the strikes are happening across France, but I don’t know to what extent, so I’ll just talk about Paris here.
**“Rain boots”, for North American / non-British readers…
***DISCLAIMER: I still love my adopted city/country as much as ever. Though goodness knows why. Probably the food. Did I mention that already? It really is rather good here.