Friday, October 19, 2007

French Rail Strike - My Experiences

Some of you have probably heard about the "big strike" here in France, of the rail workers, and other unions sympathetic to the strikers, such as the electrical workers. The issue is in regards to a special retirement feature for only these workers, which allows them to retire around 55, versus having to wait until they are 60 like the workers in the public sector. I was aware that the strike would be happening and since I don't commute to work and since the grocery store is downstairs, I didn't pay much attention. There's a protest about one thing or another happening regularly in Paris so I've begun to tune them out.

But this week I've had a friend visiting me from New York who is here in Paris on business. He's staying at the Hotel Beaugrenelle, where I stayed more than 16 years ago when I was working on a joint marketing agreement between Honeywell Bull in Paris, my company near Washington DC, and an Israeli company. The hotel still has a teeny weenie lobby, which looks like a grand ballroom on the hotel's website. I had to smile at that. They must have used quite the wide-angle lens for those photos.

If you look at the map of Paris, I live in the top right-hand corner of the city and the hotel Beaugrenelle is in the bottom left, so it's a two-train Metro ride, with many stops, probably a half hour trip altogether.

On Wednesday afternoon I offered to go to my friend's hotel, pick him up and bring him back to my neighborhood via the Metro. Then we could eat at my favorite little secret restaurant, where Antoine, the owner, treats us like kings and queens. I had no trouble getting over to the hotel around 5:30 PM, even though it was rush hour and the trains were pretty packed.

We had a wonderful dinner. Then at around 9PM, I wrote down both the train line numbers, the direction my friend needed to take for each train, and the stops where he had to exit, and walked him to the Metro station and waved goodbye and then walked home. When I got home I opened my news reader and saw that the strike that was supposed to be only on Thursday, had started Wednesday night at 8PM. I worried that I had thrown my friend to the wolves and that he wouldn't know how to get home. Here's the interesting thing...he made it home just fine. Two main cross-town Metro lines were running on schedule. He didn't have a problem.

The next day was the official strike but I stayed home because I had lots of blogging work to do. But my friend Karl went out in the afternoon and said the Metro was open and people were going in and out of the station. Later that evening he went out again and was able to take Metro trains everywhere. The only thing that he noticed was that the trains ran every half hour rather than every 5 minutes.

This morning, I was supposed to go back over to my friend's hotel and meet him for lunch before he caught his plane home. In my feedreader, I read that the rail strike "shut down France" and I wondered which part of France they were talking about. I also read that the unions had decided to continue the strike into today. I shrugged my shoulders and went out the door.

My first train was in the station within 2 minutes and I noticed on the board that the next train would be arriving 3 minutes after mine. Everything was running fine. My next train was the same. My return trip at 2PM was uneventful.

Soooooooo....I'm not sure what effect the strike actually had?

Meanwhile, Sarkozy, to whom the strike was directed, was out of town. Plus, he and his wife announced their separation. So, it seems like this strike thing was just a little gnat that he flicked off his shoulder while focusing on other things. We shall see.