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Wednesday, April 28, 2010


For those that have traveled to France or at least studied a decent amount about the culture would probably be aware that people like to strike here a lot. Though I could break this down in another entry (which I probably will), one of the reasons that so many people protest here is because it often works. Over the course of time, many corrupt monarchies that have allowed the vast majority of the populace to suffer and starve gave way to a very angry and rebellious population, which culminated in that famous Revolution of 1789 (yes the one with guillotines). Since then, the French have had numerous uprisings, including 1830, 1832, 1848, 1871, and 1968. The people here are not afraid to use force to get what they want.

Stemming from this, a curious tactic has come to the forefront in the business world. If you've been laid off from work and feel that you have been wronged or feel that you deserve a better severance package, why don't you and your other terminated colleagues kidnap your boss?

In early 2009, this becoming something that I saw in the news pretty frequently. A good example would be the "bossnapping" conducted at Caterpillar, Inc.'s plant in Grenoble last April. When Caterpillar announced that it planned to lay off 733 workers at its two plants in Grenoble, the unions demanded talks over the severance package that would be given to the newly fired employees. Although Caterpillar agreed to increase their severance from 37 to 47 million euros, the employees still felt that it wasn't enough. On March 30th, the employees went on strike and the next day, the bosses began their 24 hours in captivity at the mercy of their former employees. The managers were allowed to call their families to let them know that they were alright. Most spent the night sleeping on the floor in their offices. By the morning of the 1st of April, the managers agreed upon a 10 day schedule of meetings over the severance packages, and in addition, agreed to pay the employees their wages for the days on which they were striking. They were released, and no charges were filed.

In what other country would this actually work other than France? I cannot think of a country in the world where this practice is legal and would spare jail time for the abductors. It is technically illegal in France as well, but according to Jérôme Pélisse, a sociologist, it is way for the employees' voices to be heard (Wall Street Journal, "In France, the Bosses Can Become Hostages"). Furthermore, the police are afraid that by arresting the employees, they could further antagonize those that have been wronged. The French have sympathy for those that take their issues to the public to make the injustice they have suffered known to the populace. There was even an occasion in 2001 where a protest in Aveyron led to the burning of a McDonald's which was under construction, and as would be the norm in most countries, the man claiming responsibility was arrested. Soon after, people were outraged and threatened to cause more damage, so the police decided to let the detained José Bové go, having served just 44 days in prison. Last year, Bové was elected as a member of the European Parliament.

When bossnapping, there seems to be an unwritten code of conduct. The police will let things be as long as the captive is treated humanely. In another instance, a kidnapped boss was treated to mussels and fries while his office was barricaded shut by his former and current employees. The purpose isn't to harm the former boss, it is to make them realize the magnitude of suffering that they are causing their formerly loyal workers. It is to show them their perspective. The police may wait outside the building to be on hand in case things do get out of control, but they don't want to step in it as this could further anger the workers. Once an agreement is reached, the captive is set free, unharmed, and almost everyone goes home with a sense of satisfaction, except for the managers, who will probably have to give away more money and funding for re-training to keep their former employees content.

If you are traveling to Paris and looking to see (and eat) what French people really eat and take a walk around some cool neighborhoods of Paris, look into my tours at

Friday, April 23, 2010

Facebook Finds Friends

After five days of waiting, two rescheduled transatlantic flights, three additional flights purchased, four flights that I cancelled without the assistance of the volcano, a few days back home in St. Louis, ten hours spent sitting on the floor in Charlotte, North Carolina's airport, and a flight to France that was delayed by close to three hours, I have finally arrived back to my apartment in Paris. I felt that writing today could stave off my exhaustion. Furthermore, I have a pretty easy topic today, so hopefully my lack of cognitive ability which I possess today does not show through.

In April of 2008, I was sitting in front of my laptop at my desk in my first apartment in Paris, enjoying a glass of red wine following dinner (what made it so enjoyable was that it was only a little above 3 euros a bottle and actually pretty good). As I often did when I first arrived here, I started thinking about home, about my friends that I'm missing and some activities which I could not easily do in Paris. When away from one's country for a long period of time, it is actually quite amazing the things that one misses. I missed Mexican food a lot, even though I don't eat it that regularly, I missed certain streets which I would drive down to visit a friend, and on this particular night, I even started thinking about my kindergarten class. Suddenly, I was startled out of my reverie when I remembered that my best friend in kindergarten, François, was French! Being the case, it seemed that there was a good chance that he would be in France as well. One issue that seemed to stand out was that I had not seen him since I was five years old, when he moved back to France with his family. Would he remember me if I contacted him and even then, how could I find him?

Fortunately for me, I love messing around on facebook. No matter where I've lived, I've been able to keep tabs on my good friends (and even on people who claim to be friends who I cannot for the life of me remember who they are), so that when we finally meet up, we already know a little about what is going on in each other lives. In François' case, I started by searching for his name on facebook, though I immediately realized that there are far too many people with the same first name in France to actually find him without searching through 10,000 other profiles as well. I called my parents and asked for his last name and my Mom happened to recall it, albeit with a slight spelling error. I looked him up and sure enough, found a guy whose birthday was just a few days apart from my own, French, and looked like the François that I knew as a kid, though much older obviously. I sent out an introductory email, hoping he would remember me, and seeing if we could meet up at some point.

This plan worked well. By August, I was on a train out to Brest, which is the westernmost city on the French mainland, to meet up with some guy I hadn't seen since we had mandatory nap time at school everyday. I exited the train station, and was able to find him with little trouble. What amazed me after a couple of days is that we talked and got along as if it had been only a few days since our last encounter, and not 19 years. Since then, I have also visited him in Provence, where he and his lovely fiancée live today, and Julie and I will be attending their wedding in Bretagne (Brittany) in July.

I know some people happen to think that facebook is a colossal waste of time. To some extent, that is true. There are tons of applications, games, and other distractions that don't really contribute to my personal enjoyment of the site. I personally do not care how many sheep you have raised on your virtual farm, or what drink you have virtually sent me.

However, facebook, when used for its original purpose (that is connecting people), is nothing short of phenomenal. Thanks to it, I have been able to reconnect with my best friend from kindergarten, meet up with an old friend from high school in Brussels, and get travel advice from people I barely know. For example, if you put on your status "Anyone know something to do in Barcelona?," chances are that you will get several responses from friends who want to help, some that you know well and others that you don't. You might even have a cousin of a friend who lives there that would be happy to put you up in his guest room or on his couch for a few nights. From this point of view, I have nothing to say but good things about facebook. It has made traveling easier, and as long as you aren't too shy, it can make a positive difference in your traveling experiences as well.

If you are traveling to Paris and looking to see (and eat) what French people really eat and take a walk around some cool neighborhoods of Paris, look into my tours at

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Volcanic Activity

This is currently the longest period of time over which I have not written an entry since I started this blog two months ago. I am one of those stranded souls who is in traveller's limbo because of the volcano erupting in Iceland.

I was in Washington D.C. this past week to participate in the oral assessment for the U.S. Department of State which would allow me to work in embassies and consulates worldwide as a consulate officer. It was mentally and physically exhausting. In addition, I did not pass the assessment, but I guess it was a good learning experience.

On Friday afternoon, I was supposed to fly out to Charlotte, North Carolina and from there fly to Paris. However, there happens to be a pesky volcano in Iceland that continues to spew ash into the atmosphere, which is preventing flights from reaching most of Europe. I was lucky enough to change my flight before the Paris flight was cancelled and get the last seat on a flight the next day to Paris, though it seemed likely that it would be cancelled as well.

Yesterday morning, I awoke at 7am to check the news and saw that French airports planned on closing until at least Monday morning, which meant that my flight would be cancelled as soon as U.S. Airways figured it out that they could not fly into a closed airport. Fortunately, the lady who helped me the day before in Reagan Airport remembered my predicament and found for me the last seat on a flight for Thursday to Paris, once again from Charlotte.

This gave me a five day window where I really have nothing to do. So I decided to head back home to St. Louis. I tried to buy the ticket online for $105 online, but as soon as I went to book, the price increased more than fivefold to $566. After cussing and banging my head on the table, I continued to look and bought a roundtrip ticket for $386. Unless I get things changed on Thursday, I have 4 flights to take that day: St.Louis to Chicago to Baltimore (not to mention a train between Baltimore and Washington-Reagan), then Washington DC to Charlotte to Paris. As I write this, I am on hold with U.S. airways to work on cutting out two of those flights and one train ticket by flying directly from St. Louis to Charlotte, but I may be on hold for a while.

One great benefit of this whole thing is that I get to spend some time at home, which I was not expecting to do for quite a while. I plan to make the most of this situation and enjoy myself here, as I am trying to accept that it may take me a while to get back to Paris.

If you are traveling to Paris and looking to see (and eat) what French people really eat and take a walk around some cool neighborhoods of Paris, look into my tours at

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Metro Performances

As my last few blogs have been on fairly serious topics, I felt that it's about time for me to lighten up a little for this entry.

If you have ever visited Paris and rode on the metro here, you have probably encountered some sort of performance while en route to your destination. Whether it be some guy playing the accordion or a beggar unemotionally reciting the same tired speech that they will say hundreds of times per week, Parisians just accept these performances as part of the commute. Every now and then, an old lady or someone in military regalia will give some pocket change to a metro performer, but for the most part, the only people who pay attention to these speeches/songs are those that haven't seen them before- mainly the out of town folk.

Around 19 out of 20 metro performances that I happen to see are nothing spectacular. The most common one seen is a guy that plays an accordion, usually plays two half-assed songs, gets out his paper cup for tips, and moves on to the next car. Usually there is an Edith Piaf song included. Another common instrument used to seduce the metro passengers is the guitar. No matter what, almost everyone of them plays Ritchie Valens' "La Bamba". I actually learned the lyrics to that song just from hearing it so often when heading to work.

Every now and then, someone will hop on the metro with this boombox and a microphone, complete with a paper tip cup duct taped to the stand. The amp will almost always have some distortion effect turned on so that it causes an echo when the person sings. This is used to mask the fact that the singer actually sucks at singing. Some guys come on with a ghetto-blaster and try to rap over some beat where the stereo is turned up so loud that you can't even hear what they are saying. I don't think I have ever seen the rappers make any money, but since I seem them all the time on Line 4, they must be making enough to justify annoying the hell out of 99.9% of passengers in the car.

Perhaps as common as musical performances on the metro are performances by beggars. Usually they say the same line, and honestly, they don't put a lot of effort into it. I can't blame them as they probably spend most of their day saying the same couple of lines dozens, maybe even hundreds of times. Those that want to give them money will give them money. Most people avoid eye contact as soon as these guys step on the metro, just to show that they aren't going to pull out their coins for anybody. I remember one time when a kid about my age got on and started yelling a speech. At first I thought he was begging, but then after 5 minutes where he was still screaming while barely stopping for a breath. After 10 minutes of this, I decided he was probably crazy and got on the next car so I could get back to reading my book.

Over the last couple of years, there have been a few performances that have stood out to me, where I was even tempted to give out a little change.

-There were these two guys from South America who came on and played the guitar (one smaller than the other, so it had higher notes), and simultaneously played an andean pan flute called a siku, and these were hung by strings around their necks. They also had incredible voices. Pretty much everyone stopped what they were doing to listen to them. If I wasn't paying so much attention to their music, I probably would have given them my whole wallet.

-When a friend and I were coming back from a tour, a guy steps on the metro with a guitar and introduces himself. He seems pretty typical of most people that do this- but anyway, he starts out strumming the guitar pretty well. Then he just screams. No words whatsoever. He was even making spitting noises (like putting your tongue between your lips and blowing really hard). All the while he was still playing the guitar. Everyone was keeled over laughing, and I think he actually got a lot of tips.

-One night when heading home, a father and son duo were playing the accordion and stand-up bass, respectively. The son was maybe 4-5 years old, and he couldn't play very well. However, I gave them a little money because a). it was cute to see him try and his dad seemed happy to be playing with his son and b). it was original and wanted to give a little encouragement. A few months later I saw the the same duo playing on a bench in Montmartre, only this time their instruments were switched. The kid was phenomenal on the accordion. My guess is maybe they made more when he was bad at the instrument which was twice his height as opposed to being good at the accordion. Both times I saw them, plenty of people gave them money.

If you have any stories of metro performances to contribute, because I'm sure there are some good ones that I have never even heard of that would be worthy of including.

If you are traveling to Paris and looking to see (and eat) what French people really eat and take a walk around some cool neighborhoods of Paris, look into my tours at

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Rise of Extremism in France?

Some of you may already be aware that the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, is not very popular here. To compare, his approval ratings are currently what George W. Bush's were at his lowest point (hovering around 30%) (Wall Street Journal). In the regional elections held just two weeks ago, his party, UMP (Union for a Popular Movement), received the majority of votes in only one out of 22 regions in France. This is bad news for a man who is in power for at least another two years.

Though the numbers look grim for Sarkozy, a perhaps even more disturbing trend arose from the mid term elections- that some extreme political parties that many thought dormant actually fared well in March's elections.

Jean-Marie Le Pen, President of the National Front, an extreme right party, received 21% of the vote a couple of weeks ago in the Provence-Alpes-Côte-d'Azur region in the south of France. Among some of his public comments, he has been noted to say that the concentration camps and gas chambers were just small "details" of World War II, that former president Jacques Chirac was on the payroll of numerous Jewish organizations, and that the French soccer team has too many non-white players, which is not an accurate representation of French society. His daughter, Marine Le Pen, garnered 18.3% of the vote in the north in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region in the same elections. Though not yet as controversial as her father, she is the president of the organization Generations Le Pen, whose goal is to promote the teachings of her father to the youth of France.

In Languedoc-Roussillon in the southwest, Georges Frêche won the majority with more than 54% of the vote in his region. He was a member of the Socialist Party until he was booted out in 2007. He is also known for his inflammatory comments regarding the French soccer team, in addition to other statements like this one below, taken from his recent book:

"What I know is that progressively the Socialist Party [Parti Socialiste or PS] has erected itself into a vehicle for universal values: anti-bigot, anti-alcoholic, anti-smoking, anti-racist, pro-homosexual, pro-black, pro-white, pro-yellow, pro-red, pro-Jewish, pro-Muslim, pro-orthodox, pro-Japanese, pro-garden gnome, anti-pitbull, anti-unhappiness, anti-anger, anti-vulgar..."

These statistics and voting results are quite alarming. Does this mean that the French are becoming racist, bigoted, and/or anti-Semetic?

Probably not. Here's why:

First, there was a very low voter turnout, at least by French standards. According to the Economist, 49% of voters completely abstained. A voter turnout this small is usually rare in France, where by comparison, this would be an abnormally high voter turnout for a midterm election in the United States. The reason that many chose not to vote is resulting from the fact that many young voters don't know what each candidate represents, so they just don't bother to show up to the polls. The second and perhaps more prevalent reason would be that as young people don't really see much change from election to election, they just don't even care to waste their time and effort to vote for someone else that probably won't change anything in their daily lives.

Second, the regions which were won by the Le Pen family are regions that have higher proportions of geriatrics. Traditionally, voter turnout in the 55 and older age bracket is significantly higher than any other age group. Provence, being warmer year round than most of France, filled with beautiful farmland and sprawling beaches is a natural location for the aged to retire. Contrastingly, the Northern reaches of France have been hit hard by the poor economy and many have lost their jobs as many factories and mines have ceased their production. Younger people are having to leave the region in order to find work. Many of the retired population, who have spent their whole lives there, are more reluctant to leave their homes and as they usually aren't looking for work, they usually don't need to leave their region.

Both of these regions have been subject to a large amount of immigration, both illegal and legal. Many North Africans enter France through its Southern ports in the Provence area. On the other side of France, many immigrants used to come to work the mines in the North and many have stayed. The Pas-de-Calais area is also a popular residence for many immigrants who are trying to cross the English Channel into the United Kingdom. As problems with crime and the economy have hit these regions in recent years, it seems that the elderly population places much of the blame on the immigrants, many of which have arrived only in the last 50 years.

Frêche's case can be explained that he seems to pride himself as a country boy who doesn't care what the elitists in Paris think about him and his ways. From those that I have spoken with from the south of France, including Languedoc, there seems to be a distrust and aversion to anything Parisian, and I won't lie, I definitely agree that they have some valid points. Frêche usually apologizes after he makes an inflammatory speech, so at least he occasionally realizes he goes too far.

In sum, people should not be worried that France is going to become an extremist or fascist state. One thing that can be can be considered a conclusion from the recent election is that people don't like their President and barring a major turnaround, will be ready to vote for someone else come 2012.

(All of my voting statistics for this entry were obtained from the Economist)

If you are traveling to Paris and looking to see (and eat) what French people really eat and take a walk around some cool neighborhoods of Paris, look into my tours at