Saturday, March 18, 2006
Street protests? In Paris? Never! I mean I don’t know why Americans are so shocked by the recent activity in Paris – there is some kind of “manifestation” nearly every day in this country. You don’t think you’re paid enough? Riot! You feel discriminated against because of your religion/race/economic status? Storm the streets! You didn’t like the tie Jacques Chirac sported for his last press conference? Revolt! Your foie gras was too salty? Down with the government! Though the American media has, once again, exacerbated the situation here, the recent outrage and subsequent violence in central Paris worries me.
In fact, the last night’s violent protests – cars set fire, firebombs thrown, tear gas released by police – took place right down the street from where I live. I, fortunately, wasn’t directly affected, but seeing images of rioters right at the Place St Michel (which is literally a one-minute walk from my apartment) sent chills through my spine. As of today, more than 160 people have been arrested and at least 17 demonstrators and seven police officers injured.
Yet what is incredible to me is the response of France’s youth to the situation. Young people here really care what happens in government, whereas I think most American youth are for the most part, apathetic. Over 300,000-600,000 university and high school students took part in last Thursday's action and 1.5 million demonstrators have taken part in more than 150 rallies across the country.
I personally can’t imagine ever having stormed the streets of NY in High School for a law affecting labor contracts. Yet French youth are raised to believe that if they’re not happy, they have the right – and the obligation – to make some noise about it. Frankly, I should be out there protesting – the new law, if passed, will directly affect me. In case you all are confused by the hundreds of contradictory articles in the esoteric US press – NY Times, etc. – basically, all of the commotion is a response to the CPE, or Contrat Premier Embauche (First Employment Contract) which will allow employers to end job contracts for workers under the age of 26 at any time during a two-year probationary period without having to offer an explanation or give prior warning. So basically, for the next two and a half years – yes, I turned 23.5 last Monday, I am sure you all were celebrating in my honor from whatever cities you currently inhabit, thank you – I can just be fired for no apparent reason. Here, I’ve spent the last year and a half of my life jumping through fire and making deals with the devil (disguised as a 40 year old French woman heading up the DDTEFP in Nanterre) in order to have the right to work in this country, and, just days after I finally sign my contract, Villepin decides to chime in with this nonsensical new law.
Yet although this law affects me, I have not been storming the streets and setting fire to cars. However, I apparently look like I have. On Thursday, I was standing on the quai of the metro watching a group of young ruffians wearing “CPE” (Contrat Premier Embauche, the name of the new contracts Villepin is attempting to establish, which is the cause of such pandemonium) and yelling lots of French words that were rendered almost inaudible amid the cacophony, but that basically spelled out - and I translate in the kindest way possible – “Fuck Villepin and his new law.” I was then insulted by an ostensibly kind older couple who instructed me that the Place d’Italie was the other way on the metro line. I said “yes I know, so?” They responded “Oh you looked like you were heading to the protests.” So here I am, spending every waking – and sleeping, I do dream en français these days – minute trying to look like a sophisticated French woman, and these people take me for a rebellious student. Hélas…