GRÈVE SO HARD

A post for the Travel/Exchange/Life Blog.

France, you are entirely foreign.
Like most things in life, I’ve learnt that the more I learn about French life and culture, the more I realize there is so much more to learn!

A few crazy things have happened since the mid-semester break, some of them great, some not so, and some just rather bizarre.

But firstly, yesterday, it SNOWED! It snowed outside my window. I thought that wasn’t meant to happen here! I thought it wasn’t meant to get this cold either! But I survived – even if I did stay inside all day, only venturing out of the little cell I now call home to stealthily take hot water from the kitchen.

Now for the good stuff, going to an Arts Uni in the South of France, that’s pretty much as left-ist activist you could get right?

Right.

To break it down, France’s education system has not changed much since… since the revolution, mix that in with the economic crisis… the fact that getting work in France is hard if you don’t have qualifications… and that university education is viewed as a right and state uni’s are funded largely by the government which gives rise to a viewpoint that many students are there simply because they can be (admission into the state-run tertiary education system is based whether or not you attain the baccalaureate, and not how well you do) the situation is a little complicated.

Long story short, due to budget cuts, Université Paul Valery is looking at closing their campus in the small-town Bezier (about an hour south of Montpellier), mix that in with general unrest, French arts students in their early twenties, full of political views and ideas about what is right and wrong in this world coming off the mid-semester break you have students fuelled with energy and a want to be heard. You get a strike. Or, if you’re an exchange student, an extended break… I mean what? No mum, that’s not true, I work hard here. I work really hard.

Striking in France is a big deal. I knew that, but I mean I didn’t really know that. There are a few things that I’m not quite tout a fait d’accord with. Firstly, they frequently hold Assemblée Générale‘s, to vote on matters, establish more strike dates and as a forum for voices to be heard. It’s been a thing since like June 1789, and was big in May ’68 too; a voice of le peuple, it holds some high standing in French  society. The president of the university has the power to call in law enforcement to shut down the movement should things get out of control, however this is France. Built on a history of le peuple, it is seen as extremely important to let these things take their course. But, the thing is anyone is welcome to them, and anyone can vote in an Assemblée Générale (or AG, for those in the know).
*record scratch*
So hang on, what you’re saying is that technically it’s not even the students, or the teachers, who might be voting for the continuation of the grève?! Yep. And, according to one of my teachers – a Quebecois who was in fact able to predict the strikes because of the bongos we heard before class one day …. yea… that’s right bongos in the south of France mean a strike is probably heading your way – it is often the professional, I repeat, professional anarchists who come in and barricade the classroom doors. (Sidenote; the doors are infact locked, to the best of my knowledge, the tables and chairs are just symbolism), see some of my fellow exchangies Instagram posts.

So classes started again today, after some radical happenings at yesterday’s AG, and they won’t even possibly be stopped until after December 10, the date of the next scheduled AG. A movement was passed that meant only those holding student cards could vote, a somewhat radical movement for Paul Va, but one that was surely most beneficial to the students seeing as the past few strike days had only been voted for by something like 8 more for then against. Then they passed the movement to ensure that exams would not be called off and everyone not given 10/20 for their final marks for the semester (*tear*).  And then,  they agreed there would be no more disruptions until the next AG.

So some kind of routine will return, for the last two weeks left of classes…

The way there

The plane ride was long, and weird, and squishy… 100% disorientating and just weird.

Luckily enough on the first leg – Melbourne to Dubai – the plane was only something like half full so I jumped at the chance to head downstairs and grab a whole aisle to myself to get some zzz’s.

The second half was 20 times more uncomfortable, having just my little window seat to deal with. When the man beside me got up I thought I’d do another sneaky and go hunting for any spare aisles, alas, I had no such luck. And when I returned he said, disappointedly, “Aww I thought you weren’t coming back” *glare*

The flight from England to France was extremely short in comparison, but with much more turbulence. I got a heads up about which phone companies are best in France from a lady on the plane (kudos to you!) and I had my last ever *bad* croissant for what I hope is a long time.

Airport Charles De Gualle seemed so quiet and small in comparison to all the others I have seen in the past day, either way it was still an extremely long walk to the train station.
And that is where the real adventure begins…. I was fairly sure I could find my way to the hotel – catch the RER, switch at Gare du Norde to the Metro and then get off at Place de Clichy. But first I had to buy a ticket, I asked the girls with the Information tshirts who happily informed me that the ticket machines are not working, so you just have to get on the train… okay, I can do that, if you say so… Getting on was fine, but getting off proved difficult. The barriers are like a turnstyle with another gate attached to them, I had to manoeuvre my suitcase and bags around them in an uneasy and somewhat delirious state at the time. Then, switching to the Met I got on the wrong train. It’s never happened before in my life so of course it happens on my first day in another country. You see the stops on the train have little lights next to them, and I figured the stops that were lit would be the ones that have already passed, not the ones that are yet to be stopped at. But that’s okay, I have all the time in the world to get to my hotel. All I needed to do was get off at the next stop (Stalingrad for the record) and change to the other platform. Exiting the barrier was not an issue this time but THE STAIRS, oh so many stairs. No-one told me this. Where are the escalators and the lifts? Lugging that suitcase around is not something I am keen to do again. So much so that I am booking a taxi to take me to Gare de Lyon for the trip on the TGV.
Hot and sweaty, tired and delirious I arrived at Place de Clichy. Disorientated by everything that Europe is and Australia isn’t; cars, on the wrong side of the road! bikes, everywhere, so much scaffolding and zebra crossings that actually have traffic lights attached – so no, it’s actually not a give way to pedestrians situation…. All I had was a little map and I was not sure where to go at all. The map told me it was near the cimetière de Monmatre, and in my state of exhaustion somehow I translated that as the cinema (?! fourteen years of FFrench say whaaat??!!) but it wasn’t. So I walked, I still had time, I was just exhausted. I found some kind of bridge thing with some stairs and in my head I’m going oh no, not more stairs, just please not more stairs  but it was down like 20 steps I found the little hotel.

And finally a shower and sleeeep.

view from outside hotel

Flying has to be one of the most strangest things, they treat you like you are some kind of koala or bear type animal. You get on the plane, you get fed, then you go to sleep. You wake up, you get fed, you sleep some more…next flight, you get fed, you sleep. They don’t operate on any real time schedule (or at least it was neither Melbourne time, Dubai time, or London time). It’s probably why I’m so messed up now.
But at least there are movies!