(For a summary of strike experiences go to France/Paris Life)
October 23, 2007, Paris, France:
Dear Monsieur/Madame Train Driver (especially of the RER B lines):
As short-term residents here in the southern suburbs of your beautiful city, we’d like to comment on the recent, and ongoing, disruptions in the transport system, the ‘grève”. The Cité and the Paris Mairie try so hard to make this a great city, but these events really spoil that image.
I guess for us the honeymoon is over: We’ve been here almost 3 months and up to now we’ve thought that Paris and Ile de France have one of the best public transport systems anywhere in the world. It IS great—when it works—and we know it can work; week after week the trains, metros and buses arrive on time and the whole dovetails amazingly well together.
But, the system has now become a frustrating farce. Yes, you have gripes with government policy, some of them perhaps valid, but from the perspective of commuting travelers you’re hitting on the wrong people. And it is hitting.
We all know what a bully is and what a bully does. A bully is usually someone who is bigger and stronger in some way, but feels inferior in another way. So, to make him/herself feel better, the bully targets someone else who is smaller, weaker, more vulnerable. The bully will attack and often hurt the victim physically and/or psychologically. And the victim may be scarred for life. Often bullies band together in gangs for added strength, gangs which then prey on the victim(s). In the educational arena (and indeed in any other arena) the bully(ies) will be taken to task, as this is unacceptable behaviour. Maybe the bully will be punished, suspended, or even expelled.
Watching and listening to many people since the beginning of this strike action, it seems to us that there are many parallels between what the bully does and what is happening here. The victims in this case are innocent citizens who have nothing to do with solving your problems. Many have no private car and are totally dependent on the public transport. Many who live along the RER B lines have no other easy or affordable means of getting around (how many can afford endless long taxi drives? Even if taxis were available, which they often weren’t) and are thus stranded on days when you have no trains at all. What happens to their employment and their benefits then?
Just like the bully’s victims, these people are innocent pawns in someone else’s game. Even on days when some trains run, it seems like a cat-and-mouse game is being played with people’s emotions. “Will the train come? Or won’t it? When will it come? Can we get home?” The biggest concern and insecurity is “Will any trains at all run tomorrow? Will I be able to go to work and return home?”
We’ve learned that there are codes. For example, “depart retardé” seems to really mean that train won’t depart at all, but people are never totally sure.
We’ve heard lots of unhappy comments, and angry suggestions that more trains should be automated then there’d be no need for train drivers—who knows, if (when) that happened, current train drivers, or their children or grandchildren, would be out of a job anyway.
We request you respectfully to find some other way of dealing with your issues, a way that doesn’t drag in innocent city dwellers.
Mr. and Mrs. John and Jane Citizen
PS To our ‘real’readers: You can see that we are really peeved about this!!!