Once again several French unions are striking in opposition to President Sarkozy’s plans to revamp retirement benefits. Unlike last time, when we conveniently fled Paris for the South of France, all of the SMU students have had to endure the nasty “greve.” Much like my friend and fellow blogger Brenda, I have experienced some rather unpleasant metro and bus moments this weekend.
Thinking that Saturday would be a perfect day to go do some much needed further research on the Jansenists for my history research project at the Bibliotheque Nationale in the 13th arrondisement, I left my house around 9 in the morning. I figured an hour would be plenty of time, even with the strike going on, to get to the library. I had my route all planned out, and I even had a backup plan. As I stepped out of my house I was filled with overwhelming confidence and thought to myself, “Ha! This strike isn’t even bad because I know my way around!”
Little did I know that in about 40 minutes my confidence would be shattered and I would once again feel like the stupid American who was stuck in Paris with an American flag permanently planted in the top of her head.
What just happened?
When I arrived at the bus stop I saw that there was only going to be a 12-minute wait for the next bus. There were only a few other people waiting for the bus with me, so I figured that the stories I had heard about metro cars and buses filled to the brim with people were just exaggerations. As my bus pulled up to the stop, out of nowhere a literal gang of old French women with their rolling shopping baskets full of vegetables, freshly skinned rabbits, and baguettes began to swarm around the entrance of the bus. Since I was raised to respect my elders, I let a couple of the old women board the already crowded bus before me, even helping one lift her ridiculously heavy shopping basket into the bus.
Just as I was about to step on, thus taking the very last centimeter of available space, I was shoved out of the way by a balding, brutish man. As I began to start shouting that this was unjust, etc the doors closed and the bus took off, leaving me on the side of the road, totally confused as to what just happened.
Calming myself down, I rationalized that I had a backup plan. I walked to the other bus that I knew would bring me close to line 14, the only metro line that was working normally due to the fact that it is run by a computer. To my surprise, there was a notice on the screen informing me that this bus was not going to be running for another two hours. Completely frustrated, I got out my Paris Pratique map and started trying to plot a new way to the library. I decided to walk all the way to Montparnasse, a main metro station, about 40 minutes away.
On the edge
I should mention here that I have a completely rational and normal fear of falling into the metro tracks and being run over by the metro, so when it’s crowded I never stand by the edge of the tracks for fear some deranged person will push me in. Well I nearly experienced my worst fear today. The quai at the metro was packed with people. Every time a train would come, you would move up in, for a lack of a better word, “line.”
After a couple of trains, I was finally at the front of the line and was standing rather close to what I consider the “no go zone” (about 6 inches from the edge). There was a group of rowdy guys by me who, like most young guys, thought it was cool to act like they were going to push one another into the tracks. The boy closest to me was shoved and in effect shoved me, and I tripped, landing with my foot half way on the edge, halfway off. Luckily there was a police officer doing crowd control so he came over and settled the boys down, but I can’t tell you how fast my heart was beating and how shook up I was after that. I finally got to the library and stayed there as long as possible, dreading the return home.
The return home was not as terrifying, but just as unpleasant. I was able to catch a bus that drops me off almost at my doorstep, which made for less transfers, but a very long bus ride. I was the last one to get on the bus, so I was trapped at the very front of the bus in this awkward space between the barrier of the bus driver, the door, and another RATP worker who was riding the bus for “crowd control.” My entire upper body was smashed against the front window of the bus, my breath fogging up a small portion of the window, as my legs were balancing on someone’s briefcase, and a fire extinguisher.
As I was balancing there, the RATP worker kept on making jokes, saying “Oh isn’t this pleasant? We’re all bonding!” The entire time I was thinking, “No you dope, this isn’t funny. I do not enjoy you in my personal space, breathing on me, as I balance on a fire extinguisher, brace myself against this window, and pray to God that the bus driver doesn’t run into anything because I’ll surely die. And I’m doing this all for YOU!”
Taking none of the politics involved and considering solely my own personal comfort and sanity, I’m backing Sarkozy on this one. I really do hope that this strike stops soon. I know I came abroad to experience a new culture, but this is something that I’ve experienced enough of. I really can’t wait to be able to jump in my car and drive myself places again. So in the end, the strikes have taught me two things:
1) the personal space bubble I’ve been carrying around since high school no longer exists. My personal space is limited to the actual space that my body takes up, no more, actually, quite possibly less.
2) The French have a very twisted sense of humor.