In Spite of the Strikes, You Can Come to France

In Spite of the Strikes, You Can Come to France
You have all been likely following the news of French major strikes throughout the country, protests against the proposed pension reform by the government to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62 (among other details, available in French here from Figaro). Train delays and cancellations, public transport disruptions, fuel shortages, high school students protesting and mass demonstrations across the country have been the norm. But these past few days witnessed sporadic violence in areas outside of Paris (in Nanterre, a western suburb with a high concentration of students) and the historic center of one of France’s best cities that I know and love, Lyon. Unions and students have called for strikes again on Oct. 28 and Nov. 6, because they feel that President Sarkozy’s government is not negotiating enough on retirement reform (that is quite debatable, as he has already taken into account several measures for working mothers, those in laborious jobs and other cases). The government is increasingly clamping down on violent protesters and also forcing access to fuel depots to break the blockade. I have had people write me to ask if it is just complete chaos in France, but it is not. Despite what the media reports, you should know that life is continuing pretty much as normal, with the transport disruptions taken into account. You should keep up-to-date on developments and how they will affect your travel plans, but certainly do NOT let these strikes make you cancel your trip to France! That would be a horrible mistake. Anytime someone wants to pass needed reform in France, it is met with a backlash, as change in this country does not come easy. So these mass demonstrations, although particularly strong this time around, are a bit of a local ritual. Just Friday, the French Senate officially adopted the reform bill and the final vote will likely take place during the week of Oct. 25, with the law expected to be enforced soon thereafter. But we will see if the strikes continue, as unions and other strikes vow will happen. I have been able to get to my job just fine without too much disruption, and Paris is also a wonderful city to discover on foot and by bike.  You can perhaps use the Vélib bike rental system in Paris (if you have a credit or debit card that fits the machine). There are plenty of exhibitions going on and sites to visit. Paris is a beautiful city; France remains a fascinating and wonderful country to live, despite political clashes. I will regularly update my blog, American Expat in France, and I also advise you to take a look at France 24, as they usually have good travel updates too. So while these strikes are important, do not let them hamper your plans! Michael Barrett is a communications consultant, freelance translator and English teacher. He writes a must-read blog for expats called American Expat In France. Michael can be reached by email here. Paris Shuttle will whisk you to and from the airport and other locations.

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