Travel | Frog out of water – The joy of French university strike action

Our foreign correspondent in Montpellier experiences the recent university strike action first hand, but can she put aside her British embarrassment and embrace the joy of le revolution?

One thing that really strikes me about la France is, ironically, the strikes.

I’ve learnt that in England, if we have something to complain about, it’s generally done behind closed doors. We get immense satisfaction from a good old grumble when the situation has already passed and there is nothing more we can do about it. We like to complain.

Take, typically, queues for instance. After patiently waiting in the queue around midway for the bus to the airport, I somehow managed to find myself at the very back. Rather than questioning those in front, our group of (usually very humble) Leeds girls had a good moan to one another. “How dare he?!” we cry, checking to see if he can understand or hear “Do people not understand the meaning of a queue here?”, secretly hoping someone will let us in front.

On the contrary, les français prefer immediate action and take a stand. For example, Thursday afternoon around mid- day, I was sat in a joyful/ enthralling/ simply captivating economics class, losing the will to even breath, when I heard the sound of sirens and shouting. At first, I began to get excited, thinking it was the fire alarm and the perfect time to escape and never return. Looking around the room, no one seemed to stir. It was like they’d reached that level of boredom where burning alive seemed très appealing. I actually started to find it quite amusing. I began to laugh. Big mistake. Apparently it’s not that amusing. The class started to glance over at me, one by one. The rest stared frozen to the lecturer who was still talking, despite the fact that it was impossible to hear a single thing.

Now I understand why; it’s a completely normal event. In fact, the other day I nervously arrived to take an exam and discovered that my classroom had been barricaded. A castle of desks and chairs were balanced unevenly on top of one another (kind of like the plates and cups stacked on our draining board). Total chaos. I found my lecturer wondering around in his converses, phones in hand looking completely lost. Suppose my exam will be next week then? Résultat.

However this time, I decided to take an interest to see just what the disruption was all about. After viewing the website, Facebook group, events and online petition, I realised that this was no inconvenient and disordered disruption of the education system. It was a thoroughly processed, organised and calculated complaint.

Rather than grumbling behind the scenes about the proposed austerity measures that their university may have to face (e.g. the closure of the sister university “Beziers”, the reduced number of teachers and places etc.), the French students had united, in every way possible, to stop them. Vraie solidarité.

Rather than causing disruption, the blockade was supposed to allow the opportunity for those that had classes to join the day’s proceedings without the guilt of missing lectures.

However moi, being typically British, thought “right, better not get involved in any trouble” (and “whoop, oh my gosh, free day!” might have crossed my mind).

After taking a few pictures, I left with a Cheshire cat grin. Though I wish that I’d stayed to join in and show my respects now. Maybe next time.

Read our another Frog out of water post here

Lorna Flint

Photo: Property of

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