One strike may conceal another.

We are seriously ‘perturbés’ in France today. This may not be breaking news for anyone who follows French news. But beyond the disruptions of the massive strike action kicking off today around the country, I fear we are perturbed in a way that is closer to the English meaning of the word.

My diagnosis, dear France, is that we are suffering from generalized anxiety disorder.

Web MD describes those who suffer from GAD as people who “always expect disaster and can’t stop worrying about health, money, family, work, or school. In people with GAD, the worry is often unrealistic or out of proportion with the situation. Daily life becomes a constant state of worry, fear, and dread. Eventually, the anxiety so dominates the person’s thinking that it interferes with daily functioning…”

Depression may also be a symptom. Emmanuel Macron, speaking to students in Amiens, said that the French are too negative, too hard on themselves. Compared to other countries, we don’t have it so bad. He is not wrong, but he misses the point: the French don’t care about what’s going on elsewhere. They want things to be as they were right here in France, twenty, even fifty years ago. This is one reason why our president, as much as I personally think he’s a good leader, has such a high disapproval rating at home.

Today marks the beginning of a general strike in France. From teachers to transport workers, everybody and his uncle is unhappy about the pension reform that Macron is trying to push through. Basically, it is a simplification of the current, extremely complex system where each sector has its own plan, with dozens of schemes offering different terms and conditions for retirement, to a universal points-based pension plan for all. The last time a government tried to mess with pensions was in 1995, when the general strike made such a ‘pagaille‘ of things that Jacques Chirac and and Alain Juppé were forced to withdraw the controversial measures. So today’s strike, which has been talked about for months, must have the current government quaking in its boots.

What this means for regular people is a very big mess. Beyond the inconvenience, there is more fear and anxiety. Our GAD is getting worse.

People who don’t absolutely have to travel have been asked to stay home, employees who can are being allowed to work from home, and everybody else is muddling through. Because while they can cancel trains and flights, postpone meetings and otherwise organize different events, the frail and elderly still need caring for, hospitals are filled with patients and people need to eat.

If the disease were acute rather than chronic, you might hope for the fever to pass and the patient to get better. In this case, I fear the only cure may be a revolution. Here’s hoping we can make it to the end of the year without it coming to that!

‘Bon courage’ to all those who are affected. Best of luck and please share your war stories!


  1. pedmar10 · December 5, 2019

    hahaha the problem with my dear French is that they do and then react. In other countries that I know like Germany, they act to avoid the do! All the changes from govt here are done after the people go on the streets otherwise la vie est belle. Stay tight it will be a long one ! cheers

    • MELewis · December 5, 2019

      Yes, they are a bit too easily riled although I sometimes find myself wishing that our friends across the Channel were a bit more like the French! Maybe what will save us is Christmas — I doubt many people will be protesting for long as the holidays approach. 🤞

      • pedmar10 · December 5, 2019

        Another set mentality over there! Time will tell on the general strike maybe they will be tired of protesting lol!

  2. francetaste · December 5, 2019

    Here in a little village in France profonde, the only thing remarkable is the absence of traffic. The weather is beautiful, so I expect more strikers will decide to go out. The thing is, pension reform is popular, especially elimination of the special regimes. Even those in one of the 42 special regimes think the other 41 should be tossed out. Not their own, of course. There are a few who see a domino effect–if we let them eliminate 1, they’ll suppress all 42.
    Nostalgia for Les Trentes Glorieuses rests on the power of Keynesian spending. The thing is, the spending was mostly investment that benefitted the masses. Mitterrand’s move in 1982 to lower the retirement age to 60 from 65 was cynical–the demographic shift of fewer babies and longer lifespans was clear, so such a change was going to become a big burden for generations in the future. And now, here we are. In 1960, there were just over 18 French over age 64 for every 100 of working age. It was 21 when Mitterrand acted in 1982. Today it’s 32 retirees for every 100 workers. It means there were 5 workers for every retiree before, and about 3 per retiree now, and it’s going to get worse.
    Every person under age 50 should be in the streets today to protest in favor of the reform.

    • MELewis · December 5, 2019

      Wow, your understanding of economics is impressive. I can only agree with your logic — too bad so few French citizens get it! You are right about ‘les trentes glorieuses’. I have often heard my in-laws lament about this golden age of French prosperity. But as you say, it’s a numbers game. 🤨

    • midihideaways · December 6, 2019

      Great analysis!! The numbers are so totally stacked against retirement at 60 and people have closed their eyes to that for too long, unfortunately. And the special regimes – some of them date to the age of steam trains, when working on the railways meant gruelling physical work for the drivers and conductors. I can’t see that being the case today, and it probably applies to many of the other special regimes too.
      I have a feeling that many of the people who are out there protesting don’t actually know exactly what it is they are protesting against….

      • MELewis · December 8, 2019

        It seems that people will protest against having to give up any ‘acquis sociaux’. I heard one guy say that they would continue to protest until the reform is withdrawn, while admitting he didn’t know what it contained!

      • midihideaways · December 8, 2019

        Same as a lot of people who voted for Brexit!! It’s quite scary really, to think that people will just vote for something without having a clue as to what it is about and how it could affect them!!

  3. Carolyn · December 5, 2019

    There’s a good reason that the French are known worldwide as ‘râleurs’ and ‘éternellement insatisfaits’.

    • MELewis · December 5, 2019

      Sometimes it’s justified, and I support their revolutionary spirit. Not this time. This is a necessary reform and the French will have to swallow the nasty medicine, like it or not. I’m just sick of all the unnecessary destruction, damage to property and lost productivity. It serves absolutely no one! 😡

  4. paul · December 5, 2019

    I happened to be in Paris during May 68 and loved every moment of it. It’s an enduring memory of revolutionary French Youth. I was even at a few meetings and my best memories were of the women, so confident and stylish . with books by Marcuse in one hand and a cobblestone dug up from the street in another. Yes, they are great memories but sadly the memories, the cobblestones and Marcuse cannot pay my pension!. I now have to rely on boring corporations to invest my work pension funds wisely. The same goes, for now, Strikers only have so long until “the perturbations” will turn against them

    • MELewis · December 5, 2019

      Ah, those were different times! Perhaps the French love of the demonstration can be traced to ’68. Now we have to face an economic reality and something has to give. For now, the public opinion is with the strikers but I am hoping that will change as people grow weary of the destruction and the drama.

  5. Suzanne et Pierre · December 5, 2019

    Interesting analysis as always. I find it a bit sad to see so much troubles in France for the last year. It is a country I love but it is going through a very profound crisis though I don’t know how they will be able to get out of it as nothing seems to bring back that sentiment that things are getting better. Good luck…(Suzanne)

    • MELewis · December 5, 2019

      Thank you, Suzanne. Agree it’s sad and for the first time in a while, I feel rather depressed about the whole situation. It seems no matter what happens, no one is ever satisfied or optimistic for the future. Fingers crossed that the crisis will pass and that the government sticks to its guns.

  6. margaret21 · December 5, 2019

    Reform in France always seems to be so fraught. As francetaste says, in theory, reform is good – just so long as my lifestyle isn’t affected. Now then, chaos and bitterness in the UK, chaos and bitterness in France. Which will you choose?

    • MELewis · December 5, 2019

      Sad, eh? Chaos and bitterness seems to be the theme most everywhere these days. Maybe I’ll choose to slip across the border to Switzerland — a more stable economy and a people who actually value consensus.

  7. Caffe · December 5, 2019

    I read about it today. It suppose to be very difficult days for France.

    • MELewis · December 6, 2019

      It’s true, and we don’t know how long the strikes will last but probably weeks…😩

      • Caffe · December 6, 2019

        A week means huge losses!

  8. acflory · December 8, 2019

    Is there a huge negative associated with the proposed new system, or is it just people being afraid that they’ll miss out?

    • MELewis · December 8, 2019

      Both, I think, but mostly the former. By moving to the point system, it will level the playing field and revoke the privileges that many have worked for years assuming they will benefit from. But it seems to be a necessary change, for the greater good. I hope the government holds strong!

      • acflory · December 8, 2019

        Ah, I see. It’s very hard to take something away from people, even if it is for the common good. The opposition tried to get rid of ‘Franking credits’ [don’t ask], and they lost the election everyone thought was in the bag.
        Good luck!

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