Adfrenchures: Chapitre 6
Un reve et une greve // A dream and a strike
There are some stereotypes about French people that I have found to be completely false. For example, they're not
rude; they don't
hate Americans; women do
shave and no one smells bad (except for that drunk dude on the tram). However, there are some stereotypes that exist for a reason.
It is completely true that the French national passtimes are cheese, wine, and, above all, strikes.
Earlier in the semester, I experienced a transportation strike that meant all of the trams were only working at minimum service. Two weeks ago, there was a strike against a new proposed eco-tax where Montpellier was flooded with horses in protest, blocking traffic and the tram. Tuesday, my tram to my internship teaching English at the IUT was delayed by twenty minutes because in the center of town, midwives were striking and preventing the movement of the trams.
But, above all, the most impact the French "droit de greve" has had on our study abroad experience is the student strike at Paul Valery that has been going on for nearly a month. In the above picture, you can see the blockades set up at the entrances to every class building, preventing students and professors from holding class. There is a student strike website
, and multiple student strike Facebook groups
. Once a week, there are "General Assemblies," where anywhere from 300 to 1500 students attend and vote whether or not to continue the strike, the blockade, and other relevant problems. (Sorry, all sources are obviously in French-- but they provide visuals and photos of the strike so far.)
The students are striking against the proposed austerity measures for University of Montpellier 3, Paul Valery. The University of Montpellier is split into three different "facs," by subject-- science and math, business, and finally, Paul Va, which is the humanities. Paul Va is experiencing a serious budget deficit and students are not pleased with the proposed changes to remedy it, as it essentially dissolves/restructures Paul Va into the two other U of M institutions.
Additionally, the French university system is based upon the idea that higher education is "ouvert a tous" -- "open for everybody." If you have your baccalaureate, which is a diploma received after high school, then you are able to attend Paul Valery. To cut down on the number of students in the University, which creates part of the budget problem on the level of resources, there is a proposed reform for "acception via lottery." Each year, a student can submit his or her name into a random lottery for selection to attend the university. This means a straight A student could not be accepted into the university simply by chance; the selection process completely ignores merit and, what's more, alters one of the fundamental priniciples upon which the French university system is founded.
The blockades have left a lot of uncertainy for our integrated classes. The General Assemblies are almost always on Wednesdays, and classes are always blockaded then, so I have missed a ton of classes. On Wednesdays, they almost always vote to continue the blockade until Thursday, when I have my only other integrated course.
Yesterday, the strike was voted to continue today (so I'm missing one of my integrated courses), and the blockade will restart next Wednesday. It seems likely that I will be writing extremely long papers on my integrated course subjects in order to still receive my course credits.
The idea of students striking is foreign and almost incomprehensible for American students in particular. We pay so much for our education that to refuse to attend class means not only would we fail all of our courses and delay our degree, but we would be losing thousands of dollars in tuition fees and loans. However, students at Paul Va pay anywhere from nothing to 100 euros per year in order to attend the university. At the (private, selective) Institute where I teach English, students on scholarship only pay 5 euros in tuition to 400 euros maximum, and they don't have to pay for any textbooks. One of the reasons students are able to strike is because all it costs them is time-- American students don't really have that luxury.
This past weekend, I left Montpellier for a long four-day weekend and got back late Monday night. I took a train to Toulouse, also known as the Pink City because of all the beautiful buildings in brick. Because it was scheduled to rain in Toulouse all weekend, we went about an hour out into the French countryside to a bed and breakfast and visited small, beautiful medieval french villages in the mountains.
I did, however, get a picture of the Toulouse captial building lit up at night, in the rain.
I visited Cordes-Sur-Ciel first. "Sur ciel" means "in the sky," and the town is thus named because it is on the side of a hill overlooking a valley. In the morning, when the morning fog rolls in over the valley, it's as if the city is floating on the clouds. Since it's the off-season for tourism, the medieval town was almost abandoned, but I got lots of opportunities for beautiful pictures of the French countryside.
The next day, I went to Albi, which is the most beautiful French town I've ever been to. It was much, much larger than Cordes-Sur-Ciel-- and there were Christmas decorations everywhere!We managed to get there early enough to see the Saturday morning market. There was fresh local produce, vegetables, fresh bread, etc. There was less fish and seafood at this market than at Montpellier, because Albi is much further from the sea. I managed to find the book stalls in the market and spent about 45 minutes just searching through all of the beautiful used French books. I managed to restrain myself and only bought one (I already have over 7 books from here). Then I visited the inside of the cathedral at Albi, which was absolutely gorgeous.
Overall, a very successful weekend and a week full of the French cultural experience of striking!