Secret Life of an Expat: Strikes and Age

I’m the wrong person to ask about the strikes and civil unrest happening here in France. I’m not paying much attention. I never paid much attention to politics in the U.S., unless there was an important election or debate, and here I am the same way. Wherever you go, there you are.

But, as someone who isn’t taking part or even watching the news, here’s how the strikes have affected me:

—The stepkids have missed 2 days of school since the beginning of September, and one afternoon of day care because their teachers and day care workers went on strike.

—If I want to go into Paris, I have to check the métro website before leaving the house to see how often the trains are running. It usually says something like “one train on two” is running, which means, every other train. On strike days, it takes an extra half hour to go places, and then you have to rush home before 8pm, in case the trains drop down to one per hour or worse.

—M couldn’t get gas on Sunday night, my FIL is trying to conserve gas, there are traffic jams caused by the lines that form at the gas stations that do have gas and if you’re in one of those lines you have to wait at least 20 minutes to fill up.

I'm not really sure where the "turmoil in France" that I keep reading about in the American news is taking place. Perhaps they are confusing other events for protests and civil unrest, like the Paris Zombie Walk 2010, which took place five days ago.

What struck me most about the gas issue was that M didn’t even mention it until it became a discussion topic at a family dinner. One time there was a strike in LA that affected the bread delivery to Trader Joes. I bitched and moaned for weeks. They’re used to it here. It’s tradition. It used to be worse. Now, there are laws in place that prevent the entire transportation system from shutting down completely.

And that’s my wrap up of the strikes.

In other news, I’m starting to understand the European snobbery about what a young and green country America is while Europe has been oh so civilized for millenia. When I was eight years old, my hometown of Portland, Maine celebrated its 350th birthday. Not too bad for the U.S., but M scoffs. M grew up near Marseille, which was founded in 600 b.c. By the Romans.

Yeah, whatever I used to say. There were people living in the U.S. in 600 b.c., they just weren’t the city building types.

Now I’m starting to get it.

You know how sometimes you’ll look in the mirror and you’ll see yourself as if you’re looking through someone else’s eyes? I’m starting to hear myself through French ears. This is not to say that my language skills have gotten so good that I’ve lost my accent. My language skills are getting good enough so I can hear other people’s accents, and it’s rather horrifying. I’m starting to hear the American accent as flat and twangy. Sometimes I don’t even want to talk, because I can hear how bad it sounds when I butcher my vowels.

The other day we finally watched There Will Be Blood. The oil-drilling story that takes place in early 20th century California. There’s nothing there.

I was like, “Oh my god, that was less than a hundred years ago.”

M responded with a smug “Now do you see why we think you are a young country?” Sure, I always saw it, but I guess I never really felt it before.

Well don't we look civilized.

This isn’t to say I’ve gone anti-American. On the contrary, I’m comforted when I hear American accents in the street. Unless I hear too many of them, then I know I’m too close to the Eiffel Tower. But there is one thing we do better than the French, one thing I am very proud about even if I’m not paying attention. The U.S. may be young and green, but we’ve had ONE extremely stable government since we started. One. France is on its Fifth Republic since 1792, and is perhaps heading for the Sixth. Age isn’t everything.