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France strikes again: 'Joe Le Taxi'

Jan 29

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Thursday, January 29, 2009  RssIcon

We had mentioned recently how Ireland’s reputation in France is quite low at the moment. Well, if it’s any consolation to you all in Eire, today sees the return of a classic French negative image: the strike.

Public servants, teachers, transport workers and state broadcasters have been called out by their unions. Many private sector workers from large factories like Renault are expected to join them, and most daily papers are off the news-stands. Cities and towns across France will witness massive protest marches and public meetings on the streets. At present it’s just a one-day strike, but it could be repeated in the coming weeks. President Sarkozy’s tactless boast last year that “nowadays when there’s a strike, no one notices” may come back to haunt him.

The rationale for the strike is a general air of dissatisfaction rather than any specific government action. Public service employees fear cutbacks; some primary school teachers are already taking home less pay for more responsibilities. Then there is the constant French worry about “le pouvoir d’achat” – purchasing power. While the economic crisis has hit France less hard than Ireland (no crazy mortgages here), the cost of living is rising. A baguette, that symbolic and reliable barometer of French prices, has become shorter, thinner and dearer.

The most visible signs of the strike are school closures and transport problems. Here in Paris, buses are running almost normally but on average only 1 in 3 trains and metros are operating. This presents less of a problem in the morning, when commuters are spread between 6  and 10 a.m., but the evening rush home tends to be a concentrated heave of panic. Your blogger had no problems getting an early train this morning, and an hour-long stroll home through Paris is no hardship.

(Today’s strike in France and last week’s disturbances in Iceland make us wonder why Irish people haven’t yet hit the streets en masse. Yes, we’re generally apathetic, but surely even the apolitical Irish have a boiling point?)

We’re reluctant to suggest that anyone profits from today’s transport disruptions, but for some there’s certainly a strike dividend. Cafés near our workplace were full with early risers who skipped breakfast at home in order to catch a crack-of-dawn train.

Then, of course, there are the taxi-drivers, who’ll be in greater demand this evening. Scorned in Paris like in every city, doesn’t anyone have love to give to them? Why, yes!  

To prove it, here’s one of the most famous French pop singles ever: ‘Joe Le Taxi’ by the young Vanessa Paradis. Listening to it after all these years, it actually sounds great – the sparse production and breezy arrangement are refreshingly easy on the ear compared to today’s cluttered and compressed radio hits.  

And there’s nothing sleazy about it after all: it really is just a song about a taxi driver! (Sorry to disappoint you.) Mademoiselle Paradis, or Madame Depp if you prefer, is still making music. In collaboration with French rocker M she released ‘Divinidylle’, a likeable album of catchy guitar pop, back in 2007 and toured successfully all last year. But outside France she’ll be forever associated with this 1988 single.

So, for the day that’s in it, “tous ensemble!” and “vas-y Joe”:

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Aidan Curran, based in Paris, has been writing for CLUAS since 2004. More info about Aidan...

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