Monday, April 10

Just Lose It

This weekend I went to Granada, in the southern province of Andalucia.

It's very beautiful, both the city and the Province. The area is a sort of 'high desert', very dry, but with shrubs coving most of the hills in green. The city is very well preserved, with the architecture showing many Islamic influences. The area was under Arab control for almost 700 years, up until the late 15th century.

The most memorable part of my time there was seeing the Gypsy caves. As the name implies, it's a collection of caves near the top of a mountain, which are home to Gypsies as well as a few hippies. I'm not sure if I'd want to spend much time there, as it was pretty filthy, but they seemed happy enough. I didn't ask exactly where they go to relieve themselves...

I stayed in a hostel, which was one of the nicest that I've been to in a long time. The roof was made into a terrace, and each night they would cook paella (a Spanish national cuisine) on a barbecue, while guests played some of the instruments that were laying around. Combined with the view of the city, it made for a great atmosphere, laid back and friendly, blended with the Spanish culture.

Most of the people that worked there spoke English, French and Spanish fluently, and when they talked to each other they would switch between all three during the conversation. To put it mildly, it was challenging to follow. It's the best sort of practice, though, as switching back and forth between French and Spanish has been giving me pretty big problems. I've been having a hard time keeping the two languages straight, so it was good practice going back and forth.

Also, I think that I have a new hero. Or at least, someone who left quite an impression on me. One of the girls that worked at the front desk was born in Canada, though her parents are from France. She moved to Spain three years ago with her father [she's one of those perfectly trilingual people], but when he took off for New Zealand a year after that, she decided to stay in Granada and get her own place. Still, she's been taking trips to Asia and South America every few months when she has the chance. The part that got me is that she recently turned 16. Which means that she's been living on her own since she was 14.

She is of course very mature for her age, and talking to her I would have assumed that she was more like 18 or 19. But still, I was proud of myself for making it on my own at 18. I guess some people just grow up faster than others...


[And yes, now it's time for more rants about France. Apologies to those who aren't so interested...]

It seems that the strikers, demonstators, and mobs have won. Chirac, the President, withdrew the national working law that had pissed off so many people. After two weeks of massive demonstrations [involving up to three million people, who blocked most major road, rail and air routes, crippling the country], he finally blinked. It seems that democracy is, well, malade in France.

The reason that the demonstrators seem to be so out of touch is that the jobs they're fighting to protect simply aren't there in the first place. For the people concerned, the only jobs available are for a fixed amount of time, say 6 months. These jobs have no security anyway, and thus the employers get around the rigid laws of regular full time employment. So either way, the unskilled workers lose.

It's also said that employers will just hire people under 26 so as to be able to fire their workers at will. Still, most skilled workers are at least 26 when they enter the labor market, if not a few years older. So the effect shouldn't be that great.

Don't get me wrong, I think the working contract was a stupid idea. Instead of just singling out the youth, it would be more logical to revamp the entire system, giving progressive job security depending on how long you've worked with the company. This would be more along the lines of other western countries where it's not so hard to find a job in the first place. Sometimes it's better to be realistic than idealistic. It's better to have a decent job than no job at all. In countries that protect their workers, but to a less rigid degree, the standard of living is not lower. In some cases, such as the U.K., Scandanavia, and Canada, it's actually a bit higher.

But such a change is now impossible, given that the demonstrators have tasted blood. Such a change would be much, much more unpopular.

All this aside, the biggest question that this raises about the French system is why the people have to take to the streets to get their point across in the first place. If the majority of the population isn't happy with what the government does, come the next election the opposition should offer to undue the changes, and hence get elected. Yet most French presidents stay in office for at least ten years. So either the French aren't voting for what they believe, or the people on the streets are in fact a minority. If it's the second case, the government giving in to them goes against the very principles of a democratic society. It's in fact mob rule. Hopefully the people will learn to express themselves in the ballot box. If the majority still can't get what they want, then it would be time to take to the streets. But this time to demand the total overhaul of the French electoral system.


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