As a student studying the French language in the United States, France’s numerous political and social strikes were always current events talked about in my classes. It’s something the French people are relatively well known for, and definitely something that is covered in the news in the United States and around the world very often. However, about a month ago I landed here in France and went from hearing about these strikes from across an ocean to living in the very country and the very city where they are currently happening. At the moment, France is in a time of relative political turmoil. Most notably, national pension reforms and negative effects of BAC (France’s version of the ACT or SAT) reforms are sparking strikes and manifestations around the country as well as here in Rennes. While the motivations, effects, and politics of these strikes could make up several other blog posts themselves, in this particular post I want to focus on how these strikes can affect everyday life for students here in Rennes.
Usually the day before a strike or manifestation is set to take place, I’ll hear about it through one channel or another. Sometimes my host family will let me know that one is planned over dinner, I’ll hear about it on the news, or I’ll get an email from CIEE or the University Rennes 2. If there is a strike planned for transportation workers, I have to make sure to check online for specifics about what bus lines are affected and how bus schedules will change. If there is a manifestation, it seems like they usually begin in the center of Rennes in the early afternoon. When this happens, busses might be diverted or certain metro stations might close down for a little bit. Sometimes I’ll see police officers out in town or in the metro stations on the days of strikes, presumably there to keep order if any of the protestors were to move down into the metro. Occasionally there will be signs put up or vehicles parked around town symbolizing the workers on strike. In rare cases where the University might be affected, the President of the University will send out an email to cancel classes for the next day. This has happened three times so far. There isn’t a strike everyday, but lately they have been happening relatively often. Luckily, there are lots of resources given to us CIEE students to help us stay on top of what’s happening regarding the strikes in Rennes.
In my experience, the strikes happening here in France aren’t necessarily anything to be afraid of or nervous about. While they can affect daily life in certain circumstances, they really are just more of an inconvenience. It just becomes more important to plan ahead, and to stay informed about what is happening in the country around you. I try to look at the strikes as another opportunity to experience and learn about the French people and culture. Taking time to listen to your host family and the French people around you about why the strikes are happening, what the French people are fighting for, and what their motivations are is a very educational experience. I’m sure the strikes are something that I will look back on as yet another valuable cultural experience of my time studying abroad.
Claire Stites, Purdue University