25 March 2006

Surrender Monkeys Cry: "Work? Mais Non!"

Despite the way "cheese eating surrender monkeys" rolls so delightfully off the tongue, anyone with a passing familiarity with the ways of the French will be well aware that les grenouilles are hardly the pacific individuals many Americans assume them to be, concerned only with getting blotto on red wine while snarfing down buckets of slimy snails and smoking incredibly stinky cigarettes.

Of course plenty of that does go on, but the French are also as contentious and stroppy a race as exists anywhere, and said contentiousness is not limited to late-night shouting matches over the relative merits of Foucault, Derrida and Camembert. While they've shown little enthusiasm for doing battle with foreign enemies, at least not since Napoleonic days, they've regularly been to charge out into the streets to wage war upon the state, les flics, and, if need be, themselves.

The latest riots, said by some to be the worst threat to the established order since the baby boom eruptions of May 1968, may have the corrupt and ineffectual French government quaking in its boots, but for the rest of us, there has to be a certain hilarity factor in the spectacle http://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifof intellectuals, anarchists, garden variety leftists and the usual assortment of apolitical punks, hippies and thugs tearing up the paving stones in protest of reforms proposed to French labour laws. Put more succinctly, they're rioting against the possibility of being fired from jobs they don't have, and jobs which they'd probably never take even if they did exist.

For those who haven't been following the situation, the Prime Minster Dominique de Villepin, the oily character you'll remember protesting the Iraq invasion as though he actually cared about Iraq as opposed to France's oil contracts therewith, tried to put through a law making it more attractive for employers to hire young people, who presently have an unemployment rate of over 20%. Its main provision was that for the first two years of employment, the boss was entitled to give young Pierre the boot if he turned out to have la tete d'une bloque. As it stands now, bosses are pretty much stuck with anyone they hire.

As someone who's been both an employee and an employer, this hardly sounds unreasonable, but this is the French we're talking about, remember. Anyway, even as I type this, news comes that de Villepin is ready to "make concessions" to the rioters, which I think is the fancy-pants French way of saying "surrender." To which I can only say, quelle surprise!

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