Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Is silence always golden?

After more than 5 years in France, my perceptions for many things here have changed, mostly towards the positive side. One that hasn't is my opinion towards the strikers / protesters who use whatever methods they could to get heard and to achieve, sometimes, their personal interests. Egoism was the word I used when being interviewed on the TV and on newspaper during the CPE demonstration back in 2006.

Today, unfortunately, my view stays the same. For me, it is very simple, everybody in this country is entitled to go on strike, in the condition that they do let others live their everyday's life. The CPE demonstration had made the commute to my French classes extremely painful. Today, those who are not happy with the retirement reform are once again using methods that would annoy everyone in order to get attention. It has created huge inconveniences for those who are not on strike. I had to face the risk to not have enough gas to go to work, stuck in traffic because the protesters were distributing their brochures, rushed to office to find out that the meeting was delayed because the client got stuck in the traffic jam (due to strike).

My question, who granted these people the right to block schools, public transport system and refineries? Some even go further to destroy public properties. No, the French laws do not allow it's people to do it, but, over the years, it has been tolerated. Not every French agrees on these egoist teleological approaches, but they keep quiet.

This leads me to think, is silence always golden? Like the saying "the squeaky wheel gets the grease", shouldn't those who do not agree on these selfish actions, stand out and express ourselves? I, actually tried to, but chicken out at the end:

- On the way to work, I passed by a high school. The entrance was blocked by chairs and tables; students were gathered outside the school. I told myself that they are wasting the tax payers money but I didn't dare to voice it. I intended to take photos but when I saw the huge group of young kids, I snapped and RUN AWAY. Since when high schoolers look and act like gangster?
- After 1 hour of driving I was 5 minutes away from my office. I got stuck for 20 minutes because the strikers were distributing handouts in one of the roundabout. They were trying to hand it to me but I didn't stop and didn't turn down my window and instead giving them a nasty face. That was all I dare to do, sadly. I almost shout at them but I hold my tongue.

Luckily I can still voice through blogging.


  1. I heard that in some countries, like Japan, employees that are on strike go on doing their job, only wearing a black band on their arm to show their protest.
    I wonder if they really succeed to get things to change this way, and if so I really admire the social dialog culture in those countries.

    Sadly in France things have to get ugly or else nobody reacts. You have to admit that the attitude of the government toward protesters, not moving a single bit after more than a month of protest, is not helping to ease things down.
    After all Sarkozy bragged a few years ago that "Today, when a strike happens in France, nobody even notices it!". Way to encourage moderate negociations.

    Another point to explain why French people are so tolerant with this kind of actions is that they endorse the strikers protest with rates as high as 70%. Only they don't go on strike because of the fear of getting fired. Nowadays, only people with strong job positions such as civil servants and teachers can "afford" to go on strike.

    Many wish, though, that negociations could happen without blocking the whole country every over month.

  2. This is what happened when entitlement and financial reality collide.

    This is a big warning to America who is the only capitalist country in the world !


  3. This is what happened when entitlement and financial reality collide.

    This is a big warning to America who is the only capitalist country in the world !


  4. "I wonder if they really succeed to get things to change this way"

    Well, you have to admit that in France, strikes are not about changing things, they are most of the time about not changing anything.

  5. So not true !

    A lot of them are about changing salaries (upward, obviously). :P

    But you're right, I should rephrase my first post : "I wonder if they really succeed to protect their interests this way"

    And you have to admit that it would be much more difficult to raise a crowd to actually make constructive propositions compared to protesting against a project. This is simply not the goal of a protest or a strike, which are more of a binary indicator.
    So yeah, obviously, when a protest occurs, it is often to prevent a change to happen.

  6. Jem,

    In Malaysia, some politicians went fasting to get attention. In some Asian countries they burn themselves. Of course Malaysia does not have the same level of freedom of speech like in France, but there is no such mentality as making things difficult for others in order to gain attention.

    Yes 70% of people would like the movement to continue, but more than 50% of them disapproved the blockage of the refineries. I think it is very unfair that just one group of people decide to do something and the innocent people have to suffer from it.

    In a democracy system, if you don't like what the current government is doing, you vote them out in the next election.

  7. I am new to your blog. I was googling for 'France Malaysia' and i found this. I am doing some research for an inter-cultural session next week to a joint French-Malaysian workforce here in Malaysia which its management felt is lacking in inter-cultural understanding. I will use your experience to ask my audience (both sides) what they think is the better way to get things done. p/s - as a consultant our tactic is usually to listen, and not speak ;)

  8. Hi Redhuan,
    That's very interesting discussion. Please come back and update me what your audience think.

    Good luck.