Perturbations

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!

Urgences

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I went to the ER this week. More than half of the hospital emergency services in this country are on strike, a movement that’s been building since March. They want more staff, more hospital beds and better conditions. Not so much for themselves as for their patients.

Of which I was one, however reluctantly. My belly-ache hardly seemed worthy of a trip to the ER. But the first available doctor’s appointment was over a month away. It was probably nothing but what if it wasn’t? So off I went.

Here in France profonde as we call it, ‘les Urgences’ are the first and last resort for both the seriously injured and the walking well. We live in an area with few doctors. Hardly surprising, given the proximity of Switzerland where medical professionals earn twice what they do here. We’re too far from the big hubs of Lyon and Paris, where medical care par excellence is readily available. Our local GPs are few and far between; they are over-worked and under-paid. There are no walk-in clinics and basically no options other than the hospital.

Being of a squeamish nature, I avoid such places like the plague (and for fear of the latter). So when I arrived at the hospital, I went first to the general reception desk, hoping that the medical appointment side of the ER might be removed from the one with the helicopter pad. No such luck. Off I went.

I arrived before the set of solid double doors that said ‘Emergency – Push Hard’ and paused. Then I took a breath and pushed. Instead of bloody accident victims and George Clooney running alongside a gurney, I saw a waiting room with people that looked like they might possibly have a pulse. Eyes glazed over with either pain or boredom, possibly both, it was hard to tell. No one spoke. Waiting rooms are silent places in France.

Behind another set of doors was where it was all happening. I took a number and was heartened – 256 and they were currently serving 253! After several minutes I realized that this was the line for paperwork. Another ten minutes went by before I was registered and the real wait began. One of the many signs on the wall informed me that the order in which patients would be helped would not necessarily be in the order of arrival, depending on the nature of their affliction. Fair enough.

I had plenty of time to observe what was going on. The ER was on strike, but that didn’t mean they weren’t taking care of patients. It is more of a symbolic strike, a gesture aimed at raising awareness of the untenable conditions in our hospitals. A bunch of hand-made posters included one that said: “It’s not because we’re on strike that you have to wait so long, it’s because you have to wait so long that we’re on strike!”

After a two-hour wait, I was better informed about the issues surrounding the strike. It’s not just a matter of throwing money at the problem. The system is broken. The health minister Agnès Buzyn wants to fix it with a plan that will take pressure off the emergency services, developing other medical services rather than increasing ER resources. The striking ‘blouses blanches’ (doctors and nurses) aren’t happy with this solution. Clearly it is not the shot in the arm they were hoping for. I feel their pain. But I also believe that a bigger healthcare reform is needed and that the current plan is a step in the right direction.

When I finally saw a doctor, he prescribed two weeks of meds and advised me to follow up with my regular GP when my scheduled appointment finally comes up. I am grateful that this option was there and for the hard-working people who provide urgent care. But I had no business taking up space in an ER whose resources would be better spent helping urgently ill patients.

What’s your experience with the ER?

Nos meilleurs délais

‘Nos meilleurs délais’ is one of those very French expressions I struggle with. In theory it means ‘at our earliest convenience’, ‘in a timely manner’ or simply as soon as possible. In practice, soon is not possible. I find that in France instead of ASAP, ‘delay’ is the operative word.

We are in the midst of a month of delays due to various strikes and it is surely only right and normal that things slow down. But there has been no mail in my box this week and yesterday the internet went down for the better part of the day. Without a word of warning, or explanation.

I tried to be zen. “Work on something that doesn’t require the internet,” my reasonable self told less patient me. Okay. I took a crack at writing the new business proposal I’d been thinking of sending out. But I wanted to check on a quote to include. Then on a company I was planning on contacting. So I tried again. With a different browser. Still no ignition.

I called Orange. That’s the recently rebranded name for the phone service, what most French people still think of as France Telecom. I did not get a human being, bien sûr. After pressing various numbers, including my full, 10-digit land line, I was directed to the right voice box. It informed me that, due to an ‘incident’ in my area, they were unable to help me further. However, if I so wished, I could punch in my mobile number and they would text me when it was resolved. In went my mobile number.

I hung up and promptly received an SMS on my clunky old French cell, the one I keep for essential messages with service providers who only want to send info to a mobile. My smart phone is for work, and that’s a Swiss number. Orange had kindly sent a link to a website where I could get further updates on the internet breakdown. Argh!

Unable to access the link from my (dumb, unconnected) French phone, it occurred to me I could use my iPhone. In fact, it occurred to me that I could connect my computer to my phone’s hotspot via my Swiss provider and get an internet connection. Ignition! It was too slow to be very convenient (as I’m on the edge of network coverage) but it was a start.

Unfortunately Orange wanted my log-in details, which didn’t have. After farting around with that for a while, I finally got a new password and accessed my account. When, after scrolling through various sections, I got to the part about internet service, it said: “We are experiencing a larger than normal request for support and will respond to your request as soon as possible.”

Nos meilleurs délais? I gave up.

Macron has committed to getting all of France wired for ultra-high-speed internet by 2022. But it seems that in order to meet this commitment in a timely manner  not everyone will get fibre but 4G. Fast, but not super fast. Still, our current so-called high speed service here in the boonies is so slow that I’ll take that with pleasure.

The main reason for all of the strikes at the moment is the reform of the ‘cheminots’ or national rail company employees. This has been in the works for some time and has to do with a European directive on opening up the train lines to competition. Although the current SNCF employees have been promised that they will keep all of their rights and salary, they are striking for the future. They want all new hires to also keep their status as public workers, with perks and premiums and the opportunity of a full pension at 52.

Clearly this is not going to happen. But for the unions, and a majority of French, it’s the thin end of the wedge. If the cheminots go down, it’s the end of life as we know it. Automated cashiers and driverless cars and soon we’ll all be force-fed ready meals from MacDo.

In the meantime, five hours later, the internet came back on. I googled to find out whether Orange had been on strike but there was no mention in the news. I have concluded that it was a stealth operation by disgruntled workers in a show of sympathy.

But everybody else and his uncle is on strike this spring: Air France (they want a 6% pay increase), garbage collectors, energy workers, university students. The latter are worrying as they are the ones credited for bringing the country to its knees in May 1968. More on that later.

Have you been affected by any strikes lately?

En grève. On strike!

 

'One strike may conceal another!'
‘One strike may conceal another’

Note to readers: The management would like to apologize for any inconvenience as the regularly scheduled post cannot be shown this week due to a labour dispute.

This would not be a blog about life in France without a little strike action. The right to strike – faire grève – is deeply engrained in the French culture, and it is one that is regularly exercised.

As the French national rail company, SNCF (Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français), or, as I’ve heard it popularly referred to: Société Nationale des Connards et de Fainéants – national company of jerks and lazy asses – now enters its second week of strike, I feel inspired to join them.

There is a certain time pressure. The period between the month of long weekends in May and the official start of the summer holiday period in July is all too short. This is prime-time strike season: a window of opportunity to make your point before heading out for some well-earned vacation.

So, I am officially on strike this week in protest against the poor pay and work conditions offered by WordPress. Since starting this blog over a year ago I have received zero remuneration and no time off. Don’t even ask about medical and retirement benefits! Sure, I’ve enjoyed it, gained a great many readers and met fellow bloggers whose work I also enjoy. On a personal level, I have learned a lot, enriched my writing and had a lot of fun. But fun is not the point.

The point is that if I don’t strike now and send a very strong message to the management, who knows where it will all end? WordPress might be taken over by foreign owners who could impose an even more draconian regime. Who can say? They may very well outsource my (unpaid) job to India.

No, I’m not a member of any union. Didn’t you know that the French are among the least unionized workers in the world? But I will defend to the death my right to strike. Negotiations you ask? Maybe. All in due time. Strike first, negotiate later, that’s the French way!

So when you come back next week (you will return of course?), I hope to be able to once again offer normal service. But I’m not making any promises.

Vive la France!