Strikes–often affecting government offices or public transportation–are not uncommon in France. Most often when we hear about them on TV we greet them with a yawn and a click of the remote for some real news. The exception to this would be if a grève might touch you directly, as in upset your personal travel plans.
Earlier this month I was returning home after spending several weeks with an ailing aunt in Baltimore. I took the short flight to JFK where I was told I could get as far as Paris, but the connecting flight was cancelled because of a French air traffic control strike. My husband, at home in Portugal, went online and found an inexpensive, despite its name of “Première Classe”, hotel for me, near Charles de Gaulle airport. I arrived in the wee hours of the morning: 6:30, which was really 1:30 a.m. East Coast time. Things went further downhill quickly. I received incorrect directions from an airport information guide. I speak French and she spoke English, so you’d think we might have actually communicated. No way. “Take the shuttle on level five,” she said. Well, yes, but it was level five on the other side of the concourse. I waited for six blimp-sized buses to come and go, attempting to read the blur of digital destination info at the top. Some just whizzed on by without stopping. How did the drivers know someone in the jostling crowd didn’t want to go where they were going? Je ne sais pas. Neither did they.
Finally one arrived that said PC at the top. I heaved myself up the steps with carry-on bags and two suitcases. (I’d had to borrow an extra from my aunt because I purchased a boatload of CAbi clothes from my sister-in-law on one of my nursing breaks.) It was a baby blue Amelia Earhart number, circa 1960, weighing in at an impressive 29 pounds. They didn’t have wheels back then, remember? I didn’t think it would matter, since I’d just check it through to my final destination. Hah!
The shuttle was packed with children and burkas and unsecured luggage flying through the vehicle like missiles as the crazed driver hurtled around the perimeter of Charles de Gaulle in preparation for next year’s Grand Prix. I watched as best I could to see when we were approaching the PC hotel and disembarked with difficulty, only to have the surly reception person tell me my reservation wasn’t in the computer. She wanted to see my confirmation. I didn’t have anything because this just got booked while I was at JFK, I explained, because thanks to the striking Gauls, I continued, picking up steam, my connecting flight from Paris to Vigo had been canceled. She appeared pleased. She demanded my passport in the exasperated way for which the French are known and loved world-wide.
Click-clack, click-clack: she and her laptop chatted intensely while I stared miserably into a plastic, thimble-sized cup of vending machine “cappuccino” that threatened to melt in my fingers. Eventually she announced I was in the wrong hotel, snapped my passport on the counter and told me to get on the next bus when it arrives (“in a half hour—maybe”) and take it one stop to the other PC.
Next time: The $28.00 Hamburger