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A photo of the Eiffel Tower at sunset. The sky behind it is orange and yellow.

The French Do(Not) Protest Too Much

I’ve received a lot of messages this past week asking if I’m all right. It would seem that the news out of France lately has been dominated by images of protests, rioting, and fires. All of which are accurate. This is because last Thursday, French President Emmanuel Macron’s government abandoned a vote in the National Assembly just minutes before it was scheduled to take place, and instead pushed through Macron’s flagship pension reform bill without a vote by using article 49:3 of the French Constitution. Technically, what they did was legal. But this bill is deeply unpopular with the majority of the French population, and by Thursday night, thousands of people had converged on Place de la Concorde to protest the day’s events. Fires were set, and I some saw videos where people were calling for Macron’s head. Literally.

All of which probably explains why I received so many messages these past couple of days asking if I was okay. I’m fine, but I won’t be commenting on the politics of this week’s events in this article. I’m not nearly well enough informed to offer anything remotely resembling an intelligent take on the situation. However, what I will say is this. I have found it very enlightening to realize just how blasé I am to the fact that violent protests have taken place in Paris these past couple of days. In fact, when I first starting receiving the messages asking if I was okay, my first reaction was confusion. As in, why wouldn’t I be okay? I’m sure the images out of Paris these past couple of days have looked intense to those looking in. But those of us in France, this is just what it means to be French.

This is because there is a long history of protest in France that frankly I admire. The French can be accused of many things, but being complacent is not one of them. If they are unhappy with something (anything really), they take to the streets in protest. And while we all grumble when strikes disrupt the rhythms of daily life, actually going on strike still enjoys widespread support. This is because the notion of civic duty is strong in France, and protests and strikes are seen as a fact of life. I myself have witnessed countless strikes, protests, and demonstrations over the years. In fact, as I write this, one is currently happening directly outside of my apartment building. What’s so interesting about this past week is that it has made me realize just how accustomed I’ve become to these events. A protest happening on my front doorstep? Just another day in France.

There are a lot of things that I love about living in France and the French mindset. The way the French fiercely guard their work-life balance. How art and culture is viewed as being for everyone, not just the upper classes. The fact that they take the time to savour and enjoy their meals. But one thing I will always admire is how in general, the French truly believe in the power of the people. I’ve come to understand that while they believe that everyone has an individual duty to contribute to the functioning of the state, if the state is going to set them up for failure, they won’t hesitate to take to the streets and hold those in power accountable. It’s a mindset that I deeply admire, and it’s one of the many reasons why I hope to call myself French someday soon.

Laura Moore is a professional storyteller who loves history and the many stories that make Paris one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Join one of her signature tours to learn the story of a city.