Saturday, May 08, 2010

En Grève

This week started with a bang! Monday afternoon instead of leaving the office via the lobby, I had exit by the roof. Why? Well because there was a grève chez Otis and the elevators and stairwells were blocked by employees demanding more money.

For those of you who know France, the grève or strike, demonstration, manifestation is a pretty common occurrence. I imagine that if you spend a week in the capital, you will see at least one. Striking is a way a life in France, almost as common as the baguette, wine or cheese.

I remember one time complaining to a colleague about the amount of strikes here and being especially confused because French workers have it so good. They get at least five weeks paid holiday, are almost always guaranteed to keep their job and if they do happen to become unemployed, have a fantastic social system as a means of support during the interim. My colleague kindly explained that these were the precise reasons why her co-patriots organized so many strikes-to keep the norm from changing, to keep from losing the benefits and to show businesses how much damage non-working employees can cause.

But I don't want to comment on this social custom because it exists and nothing I say, feel or do will or could change it, so I will just get back to my most recent up-close and personal experience.

The technicians at Otis decided that a 1% cost of living increase was not enough (in defense of the powers that be at Otis, no technician jobs were cut and everyone got an increase whereas many companies laid-off several employees and/or did not provide any cost of living increase) so they decided to strike. They began at 9:30, blocked the elevators and stairwells (incredible fire hazard, right?!) and would not let the office employees walk the hallways, leave the building, go in between floors, go to the lunch, smoke a cigarette, etc for two days.

Me being me, I basically ignored the creepy guys milling the hallways and entered the stairwell at about 11a.m. in order to go from the 5th floor to the 6th. I was instantly yelled at by a pompier (fireman) and was told I would have to remain in the stairwell because it was too dangerous to change floors. I just looked at the guy, said in English, "I have no idea what you are talking about. I am American and I have an appointment on the 6th floor." Either from exasperation or incomprehension, the pompier banged on the door and demanded that the technicians open the door (yes, they were blocking the doors) so a non-Otis employee could exit the stairwell. Scary incidence #1 dealt with.

After I was finished with my lessons (around 2:30), I had to leave as I had another appointment. I exited via the stairwell and tried to go down the stairs and again a pompier stopped me and told me I was stupid to try to leave, that I was in grave danger of being physically attacked if I tried to leave the building through the lobby, blah, blah, blah. I am not proud to say it, but I pulled the hysterical American card, told him, I didn't speak French, that I demanded to be released, as an American I refused to be held against my will, and other such sentences along that line. And guess what. It worked. Dude promptly said, "Okay, we will leave on the roof like Spiderman." He took me up to the rooftop exit, did the whole peeking around corners, used really exaggerated hand signals for stop and go and wait (because the strikers had been up to the roof and he was afraid we might run into some stragglers), walked me to the next building over, down to the parking garage, welcomed me to France, wished me luck and left me to figure a way out of the garage by foot.

I wish I could say the rest of the week was as exciting, but it really wasn't.

Here's a link of the strike in the lobby. There were many more people outside.


ParisBreakfasts said...

That took gutz-American foolhardy gutz and I hope I would have tried it myself.
Yeah Greves are mystery to me too
At least the museums are not so crowded :)

Leslie in Adams Morgan said...

Great Spiderman exit! I have always wondered about the French and their multitude of strikes. I remember one week in particular when the transportation workers were on strike and everything was closed down, and the tobacco sellers were up in arms at the same time because people were going over the border to buy cigarettes. It looked like chaos on the news.

Thanks for your comment about my aunt. In the end, it's probably going to turn out to be a good thing for her. She's in her late 70s and moving to a smaller house with less maintenance will eventually make her life easier.

I hope next week is better for you. :-)

buffalodick said...

Why do you continue to live there? They are rude, weird, pompous with no reason to be, and you aren't endeared to their food...

Zhu said...

I read the first line and I just burst out laughing - an elevator strike? Come on guys! Even as a very left-wing French, I have never seen that. Okay, it is a pain but it's quite hilarious.

I do find strikes annoying because they are so common that people just don't care about them anymore. It's a bit like the little boy who cried wolf too often... some fights are worth fighting for but in many instance, workers are being unreasonable. I dislike the current gov' and I find the social and economic situations in France are pretty bad right now, but then, it's always the same people going on strike, and they have it pretty good (SNCF...).

Buffalodick, not sure whether you were joking or not, but I do find your comment kind of offensive. French are not rude, pompous etc. - at least, not more than Americans are idiot with guns, Canadians want to be Americans and live in igloo, Chinese are nerds who eat rice etc. Stereotypes, anyone?

Jules said...

That is a really interesting story/situation.

I haven't been in such a situation before, but I do recall visiting Athens a long while back and the garbage-collectors were on strike so the usual spots where people set out their trash bags where getting bigger and bigger! And that was during summer time, so definitely not the most pleasant thing. Luckily, there is a lot more beautiful things and areas to grab my attention elsewhere in the Athens area.

Anyway, I hope the striking doesn't keep interfering with your schedule too much!

Leesa said...

Holy Cow! You could make that into a movie... That's too funny (though, I'm not sure how funny it was for you at the time).. but I could just picture myself in that situation and doing the same thing you did.. I mean, seriously.. What are they thinking to try to hold an American back?! Ha! Great story!