Tuesday, February 19, 2008

One reason France sucks...

One thing that I will never get used to in France is the seemingly endless strikes. Les grèves. It seems as though every time we are planning a trip, there are circling rumours of strikes. It has ranged from Air France and airport employees (at least four times since we have been here), SNCF (France’s passenger train company), taxi drivers, and public transportation workers. Fortunately, we have always managed to avoid the inconveniences of the strikes, until now…

I will back up the story a bit. The previous blog told of our plans to visit the French Alp town of Chamonix. Unfortunately, Gilles was detained in Gabon for an additional week making our original trip plans impossible. We were quite discouraged, so to give us a positive outlook and a fresh start we decided to plan a new trip for his return. We had heard wonderful things about Prague, so decided to check out this capital city of the Czech Republic. And here come the strikes.

France is notorious for their strikes. We were aware of them prior to moving here, but I will not pretend to understand them. In Canada, striking is usually a last resort. There are clear requests that are disputed between workers and management. After much negotiation, a strike commences and continues until an arrangement has been agreed upon. How often have you been directly inconvenienced by strikes? Last summer’s Vancouver garbage strike would certainly not have been pleasant, but this is a rare event. Given that many ‘essential services’ in Canada are not allowed to strike, one could easily go several years without being directly affected by a strike. But not in France. We have friends with two children that attend school in Pau. The kids miss many days of classes due to strikes. But it is not because all teachers are on strike to negotiate a new contract. The strikes seem random and the reasons rarely disclosed. An individual teacher may choose to strike for a day. Classes for the rest of the unlucky students continues. The striking teacher returns to work the next day well rested.

We commenced our Prague trip last Monday at the Pau airport. Some air traffic controllers at the Paris airports were striking from Monday to Friday. We initially felt lucky as all flights from Pau to Paris’ Orly airport were cancelled; we were flying to the Charles de Gaulle airport. We arrived in Paris on time, and patiently waited for our next flight to Zurich. This flight was delayed by an hour. We knew it would give us little time to catch our Zurich to Prague flight, but we were still optimistic. I passed in my boarding pass first, and as I was walking down the gateway to the plane, Gilles and the Swiss Air employee called me back. All we were told is we were being put on another flight. We had to leave the secure area, collect our luggage, and visit the Swiss Air ticket counter. Turns out that because of the strikes, most flights out of Paris CDG were delayed. Efficient Switzerland did not want to deal with any passengers that may get stuck in their country because of France’s irresponsible strikes, so we were not allowed to fly to Zurich. Swiss Air put us up in a dingy airport hotel, and rescheduled our flights to the next day. We did finally arrive in Prague, almost 24 hours later than our original plans. And despite the ‘free’ hotel, we ended up coughing up plenty of money for a night out in Paris. Vive la France!

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