Thursday, March 19, 2009

C'est où, la grève?

So, after all that build-up, I saw absolutely no tangible evidence of the strike here in Paris today (other than some hastily scrawled graffiti on a bank ATM around the corner from my apartment). I didn't make it to class, but not due to the strike (more due to continued sickness and alarm clock failure). The metro ran with absolutely no hitch. There were no demonstrators in the streets anywhere that I saw (I'm sure there were somewhere at some point, I just didn't happen to find them). Classes apparently went smoothly at Sciences-Po. Had I not known it was coming and read news reports, I would not have been able to tell that there was a strike today based on available evidence.

Due to this, my excursion to try to get some good pictures of the strike was...well...a failure. I got some good pictures, but not of the strike. If you're interested in seeing some of them, head over to my Flickr. It was a gorgeous day in Paris today: perfectly blue skies, a little over 60 degrees. As a result there were tons of people out walking around. In fact, I went to the Luxembourg Gardens and there were literally thousands of Parisians lounging, chatting, eating, playing and generally enjoying life. This was in sharp contrast to the only other time I visited the Luxembourg Gardens. That was my second day in Paris (Feb. 4th, I believe) and it was below freezing, so I was practically alone save for the ducks, who were all standing on the surface of the completely frozen fountains (take THAT, Holden Caulfield). Yet, now spring has finally arrived in Paris; in the last four or five days things have even begun to bloom!

The only drawback to the improving weather? Tourist groups. Everyday there are more and more groups of 30-50 tourists invariably stopped in the least convenient place they can find on a street and/or sidewalk paying approximately zero attention to the traffic around them. I guess it just comes with living in a large city.

Since I finally offloaded some pictures from my camera, I've got some pictures of our apartment to post! Enjoy:

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Une grève!

So tomorrow there is supposed to be a "grève." For English speakers, that's a strike or a walk-out. The French love to go on strike, generally without much of a reason (the stated reason for tomorrow's strike is something to do with supporting workers and disliking President Sarkozy's 2009 budget...or something like that) and tomorrow will be a general strike, so the idea is that they want just about everybody to participate. This could get very interesting. Often strikes here have their day but don't have a huge impact, but every once in a while they take off and Paris and sometimes the whole country are essentially shut down for what can be days or even weeks, depending on how serious the strikers are. I'm not expecting tomorrow to be too crazy, though. Everything I've read says that during strikes the metro continues to run, although certainly less frequently, and that's really all that matters. I have one class tomorrow and I anticipate being able to go to it. Afterwards I plan on walking around the city with my camera trying to get some good pictures of anybody who may be out in the streets demonstrating.

One interesting part of French strikes is that even the students strike. This concept is fairly foreign and bizarre to myself and most of the American students here. American students are used to paying high tuition costs to attend school, so it doesn't make much sense for American students to "go on strike" from something they're paying a lot for. French students, however, pay quite a bit less to attend institutions of higher education and seem to be a bit nuttier politically anyway.

My school, Sciences-Po, seems to be the exception for a number of reasons. First of all, Sciences-Po is mostly publically funded, but is privately run so there is little incentive for anyone to strike against the administration as it's not really an act against the government. Second, most of the professors are not professors in the way that Americans think of the profession; that is, it isn't really a profession for them. Most work outside of academia for private firms or government institutions and spend two hours once a week teaching a class on a subject related to their area of expertise. Accordingly, the professors have little incentive to strike against the school. Additionally, Sciences-Po is known for churning out future government officials (I believe Sarkozy is the only French president since de Gaulle who didn't attend Sciences-Po; he failed his first-year exams there and went somewhere else). Why strike against the people you want to work for?

Where things get interesting, however, is when students from other schools (who apparently don't like Sciences-Po that much, for a variety of reasons) try to force Sciences-Po to shut down. In fact, on Monday approximately 50 students from another university in Paris essentially occupied our two main buildings, apparently causing both to be shutdown and the street to be blocked off by police in riot gear (of which there are always a lot in Paris to begin with). I was home sick with the flu on Monday (and yesterday, although I braved the outside world today) but friends reported being turned away when they tried to go to class on Monday afternoon. They finally cleared out and things seem to be mostly normal, although they've posted guards at the front doors who are checking student ID cards. Needless to say, I'm interested to see what happens tomorrow.

Sunday, February 22, 2009


Here's a sweet map modified using my awesome MS Paint skills to show roughly the locations of my apartment and Sciences-Po in relation to other things in Paris. Enjoy.

If you want to see in more detail or check out Streetview on Google Maps to see what my street looks like or something creepy like that, then my address is:

3, Rue Primatice
Paris 75013

First Post (sorry it took so long)

So here I am in Paris, France. I've been here for 20 days now, so I apologize for taking so long to write this first post. I could make excuses or I can just own up to being too lazy. Anyway, I will now provide a summary of my life so far in the City of Light.

I arrived here the morning of February 3rd. My flight from Chicago was only about 1/3 full, so I had an entire row to myself and managed to actually sleep, which was good because my flight landed at about 9am Paris time, so I had an entire day ahead. Flying in over the north of France was amazing because everything was blanketed in snow, something which I had oddly not even considered before seeing it. My first few days in Paris were a bit odd. I was living in a hostel in the 19th arrondissement which is fairly far away from everything and just a little bit sketchy at times (one evening I walked out the front door to find 4-5 teenagers engaged in a fistfight in the square in front of the hostel).

I only really knew 2 people in Paris and wasn't able to get in touch with them/hang out with them really for the first few days so I spent my time just walking around. I did some important things like bought a French cellphone (if you think phones are expensive in the US, try paying €0,55 per minute to make a call), checked out the area around my school, Sciences-Po, and sending out enormous numbers of emails to people advertising apartments on Craigslist (only about 3 of whom ever responded). Having been to Paris twice before and within the last two years I've seen most of the touristy things in Paris at least once, so I was left with little do except simply walk...and walk...and walk. It was cold, really, really cold. I also injured my knee from walking so much to the point that for a few days I could barely walk at all, but I persevered. Of course, not wanting to look like too much of a tourist (I'm sure I look like one anyway) I didn't walk around with my camera, so I have unfortunately taken basically no photos so far in France (sorry, sorry, sorry, I'll get better, I promise).

After those first several days I moved from the hostel and started living on the floor of Katie's apartment (a former girlfriend and current good friend from back home who's living in Paris) while I continued to look for a place and wait for things at Sciences-Po to start. Her apartment was very small, so it was wonderful of her to allow me to stay there for several nights and impose on her space. She was also nice enough to take me out with her friends several times, all of whom are great (although my French skills still aren't quite good enough to have much of a meaninful conversation with most of them, they were wonderfully accomodating).

Finally, Ian (another student from UNC going to Sciences-Po) and I went to an agency and asked them to find us an apartment. Which they did. In like 2 days. Should have done that earlier. We moved in on the 11th (nice birthday present) and it's awesome. Our apartment is in the 13th arrondissement in the southeast of the city near Place d'Italie, a major roundabout with a shopping mall and some movie theaters and stuff. The area is great. The police station is a block away, the metro (three different lines) is a block away, there's a boulangerie (like a bakery) on our block with baguettes for €0,80 and pretty much anything else you could need is only a couple of blocks away, easily within walking distance (as are most things in Paris). The apartment itself is quite large for Paris; it has one bedroom that's the size of most studio apartments here, if not bigger, a dining area with a table for 6 and a desk, a family room sort of area with a couch that pulls out into a bed and a rather large flat-panel HDTV, an entry hall, a kitchen and a bathroom complete with shower, toilet, washer and dryer. From what I hear, it's rare to find all of those things together in an apartment in Paris. We also have wireless internet (yay).

That's pretty much it for my first week+ in Paris.

On the 9th the "Welcome Program" at Sciences-Po started, which was great because it finally gave me something to do and a way to meet people. It consisted of 2 hours of French and 2 hours of "Methodology" every day. It was pretty boring, but it was good for me as it made me work on my French and taught me about how to deal with all the crazy things you have to do at a French university. There are lots and lots of rules about how to do things, and everything has a prescribed structure that must be strictly adhered to. It's all very...well...French. Thanks to the Welcome Program I now have a group of (about half American) friends here. In our group I believe there were 16 of us to begin with, made up of about 8 Americans, 1 Finn, 1 Swede, 1 Russian, 2 Aussies, 1 New Zealander, 1 Dutch girl and 1 Argentine (I think that's everyone). We've had a lot of fun hanging out outside of class, going out on the weekends and I'm hopeful that we'll stay in touch as the semester continues.

Tomorrow real classes start. I'm taking 3 classes in English (Labor and Politics; Population Dynamics; and Media, the Individual and Democracy) and 3 in French (Sponsors: nouveaux dieux du stade? [Sponsors: The New Gods of the Stadium?]; Globalisation, etats et marches financier [Globalization, States and Financial Markets]; and L'industrie musical [The Music Industry]) Each class meets once a week for 2 hours, so my schedule sets up fairly nicely in terms of leaving me time to do things.

Thus ends the summary of my life so far, there are other things that I will post later about life in general, observations and random musings but for now this is all.