Over the last few days, we’ve been crisscrossing the center of Paris. We’ve been past the Eiffel Tower more than once, and we’ve watched the light show from the Arc de Triumphe. All of this is near the government centers, which means that there is almost always some sort of protest going on. Some are French, but many have little to do with local matters, but rather with international ones. Once, a while ago, there was one about the Black Lives Matter movement (to give you an idea of the span of what the protesters might be discussing). Many of these protests last all day, or for many days, but are generally maintained in a neat and orderly fashion, where no traffic is blocked or people inconvenienced, but spread out and large enough that you can’t help but take notice of what is going on. There are often people with bullhorns or what-have-you, but what has really struck me is how these protests are so calm and stationary.
Really. They don’t particularly move. Even when they’re chanting, it’s a calm sort of thing (although the French are so stuck up about their language that it might simply be calm because they’re all very carefully enunciating everything at the same time, so as not to turn it into an intelligible combination of words). These places also seem to act almost as open-air discussion centers, with small groups clumping to talk out different viewpoints. I would like to imagine this is what the Greeks meant with early democracy, but I’ve a feeling it is not likely. Still, it makes me curious, and it makes me want to ask questions and hang out for a bit.
Which set me to wondering why, exactly, protesting in France seems so different than protesting in the US. Perhaps part of it is I’m only catching snatches, because my French isn’t that good, or that I’m more curious because it isn’t my homeland. Or it’s like a professor once told me, and that the people foreigners are most likely to meet and connect with first are the people on the fringes of the local culture and society, because those are the people who already don’t quite fit, and will be most willing to help you get acclimated. Maybe the protesters are the same in both places, but here as an outsider, I connect in a different way than there, where I’m not.
I don’t know. It’s all complicated.
We probably won’t see the protesters again, as we’ll be leaving Paris only too soon, but it has given me something the chew on. There have been no riots, so that isn’t exactly something I can compare notes on. But still, I wonder. I mean, my favorites will still be the Irish, because while everyone else is fighting and making messes, they’re just generally lovely and cleaning up everyone else’s mess (Euro 2016 is a good example).Because, you know, if the cops are going to get involved, you might as well sing to them and let them know they’re appreciated.