Americans in Paris: BOSP students report on country-wide strikes

Nov. 2, 2010, 2:07 a.m.

Students studying in Paris with the Bing Overseas Studies Program this fall are getting an authentic taste of more than escargot and crème brûlée as they live and work in the midst of strikes that have been disrupting the country since Oct. 12.

Americans in Paris: BOSP students report on country-wide strikes
Stanford students studying abroad in Paris report that metros are more crowded with the current strikes going on. (Courtesy of Anneka Gerhardt)

As many as 3.5 million French workers took to the streets this month to protest proposed pension reforms. As President Nicolas Sarkozy attempts to negotiate between his people and his Parliament, Stanford students studying abroad in Paris are maneuvering their own lives around the chaos throughout the city.

Yet students said their everyday commutes have not been affected as much as one might expect.

“I have noticed that the Metro is a bit more crowded in the mornings and afternoons, but nothing to really complain about,” said Fabiola Camacho ’12 in an e-mail to The Daily.

Students have, however, noted that parts of the city have become unsafe. For the first few days of strikes, protests affected the area around Institut Supérieur d’Electronique de Paris, or ISEP, where Stanford students in Paris study. It is located near the major railway station Montparnasse, which makes it a center for protestors.

“The first day of protests, someone threw a firework right at me as I was walking past the protest — it exploded about a meter away from me,” wrote Max Markham ’12 in an e-mail to The Daily.

Airplane and train travel has been more deeply affected as many flights and trains out of Paris have been cancelled. This caused some scheduling issues in the students’ Bing trip to Savoie, as the students’ departing train was changed at the last minute. On their return, they found themselves crammed into an already overfull train, but most did not seem to mind.

“Despite those changes, the trip was still amazing,” Camacho said. “And yesterday we went to the Opera and due to the strikes there was no set. We still got to see the opera without it, and it was still amazing but we were missing the set.”
Strikes are a fixture of French civic and political life, prompting much of the public to take a nonchalant attitude toward the disturbances. Stanford students are following suit.

“No one here stops taking the metro or makes drastic changes to their daily routines just because a few people have decided to stage a protest,” said Jasmine Rodriguez ’12 in an e-mail to The Daily. “They just continue about their normal business like nothing happened. That’s the same attitude that I have taken towards these recent events.”

Students have also been surprised by the efficiency with which the country runs despite the strikes.

“I remember there was a strike in NYC (where I’m from) one winter during my high school exams…school was cancelled, people didn’t go to work, it was crazy,” Markham said. “In Paris, people just shrug it off and continue along in their daily routines. It’s like second nature to them.”

Americans in Paris: BOSP students report on country-wide strikes
(Serenity Nguyen/The Stanford Daily)

The commonality of these strikes does not, however, imply that they are accepted or approved by the entire population. Two of three students interviewed noted that their host families are opposed to the strikes.

“They would also rather pretend that they are not even happening,” Rodriguez said of the members of her host family. “Both of them are not in favor of the strikes and they don’t exactly have a positive opinion about those taking part in them.”

Despite the complications they provoke, the strikes have provided insight into a common aspect of French life. Students and professors alike agree that the viewpoint provided by traveling to Paris during the strikes has been unique.

“Students have witnessed something completely new to them, which has clearly intrigued them and led to some interesting discussions, including in my class on French Politics,” said Patrick Chamorel, professor of political science, in an e-mail to The Daily. “In that sense, it is an enriching experience culturally and one they are unlikely to forget.”

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