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“Solidarit, Solidarity, Solidaridad: United in Any Language”

At the bank Monday afternoon, the teller asked if I was going to participate in the demonstrations on Tuesday. Who, “moi?” I was so surprised she asked! “I’m too old…I’m an American…and I’m an employer!” was my first response. Her retort — “But you should…for the ‘solidarité!'”

The word struck a chord for the first time, even though in France, you may hear it said more often than “liberté,” “égalité” or “fraternité.” I heard it several more times on Tuesday, but within a completely different context.

While the protestors where gathering at Place d’Italie and other parts of France to begin their show of strength and “solidarité,” I was among a select group of a few hundred people, mostly from the Spanish community, to warmly welcome King Juan Carlos I and his Queen Sofia of Spain at an official reception hosted by Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoë and other city officials in the Salle des Fêtes at the Hôtel de Ville.

Europe has tremendous respect for Juan Carlos. On November 22, 1975, two days after the death of Francisco Franco, he was designated King according to the law of succession promulgated by Franco and successfully oversaw the transition of Spain to a democratic constitutional monarchy, vowing to re-establish democracy and be “King of all Spaniards, without exception.”

Juan Carlos, born in Rome in 1938, also claims the title of King of Jerusalem, as the successor to the royal family of Naples and is a direct descendant of the United Kingdom’s Queen Victoria through his grandmother Victoria Eugenie, and Louis XIV of France through the House of Bourbon. In 1962, the dashing Spanish royal married Princess Sofia of Greece in the city of Athens.

Clearly, this royalist, is as much a European as a Spaniard. The delegation was gleaming with pride and respect. Mayor Delanoë spoke first, eloquently, with a translator repeating his words in Spanish. Juan Carlos followed suit, his words translated to French and both of them, perhaps without having preplanned it, spoke of “solidaridad” with France, with Spain, with Europe and the world.

Again, the word struck a chord. According to the Larousse dictionary, solidarity means having a fellow-feeling for, an interdependence, meshing, locking or interlocking. This sentiment comes from a people who also proudly display their individualism. The incongruities of this society once again manifested themselves, this time on the streets with a record number of protestors, reaching almost one million!

In the grand ballroom at the Hôtel de Ville, with its elaborately painted ceiling, gilded appointments, crystal chandeliers and massive mirrors, one would never have suspected unrest outside its stone walls. As the King, Queen and Mayor left their regal chairs on the platform and worked slowly through the admiring crowd, they shook hands with their constituents who pushed their way to the front to get a glimpse and possibly even a hand shake or say a few words.

I’m beginning to fully understand what “solidarité” means to the French — how important it is to stand up for the cause, together, united — even if their individual ideas don’t concur. It’s the absolute foundation of their social democracy — to provide a high quality of life for all, not just for those who can afford it. In their minds, the new labor laws defeat this important go


For the French, a high quality of life is not what money can buy, it’s what money can’t buy. And isn’t that why some of us are here? Perhaps I should have shown my solidarity, just as the teller thought I should, in spite of my individual ideas that don’t agree.

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris
Email [email protected]

P.S. Don’t forget to mark your calendars for Sunday night’s Paris Soirées where I will be speaking about New Orleans After Katrina and the upcoming Après Midi on April 11th. Visit today’s Community Calendar for more information: /parlerparis/calendar.html


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