The Yellow-Throated and Vested Voices
There were only a few “Gilets Jaunes” wandering down my street Saturday morning, and the neighborhood was much quieter than usual. Merchants had closed their doors and even the BNP Paribas bank on the corner of rue de Bretagne was entirely boarded up in preparation for what might come — unwanted violence. Le Louvre was closed, the Eiffel Tower was closed, Galeries Lafayette, Printemps…all closed on a Saturday during Christmas shopping, about which I am certain none were happy. My plans to shop at the BHV and Leroy Merlin were thwarted entirely, as was movie-going since even the MK2 theaters decided not to take a chance.
Images on France24.com showed some violence along the Champs Elysées, tear gas launched on the crowds of protestors, while I calmly lunched and worked on my computer at a favorite café near the Centre Pompidou. The museum was also shut tight, with virtually no one on its “parvis” (plaza)). That was a sight I’d never seen before, even when the museum is closed, there are still tourists there milling about, but not this time. The café was half-empty, too. Nothing was normal…except the rain and gray skies.
Before heading home I shopped for Christmas gifts along the narrow streets in Le Marais, thinking it less vulnerable to the Gilets Jaunes and as suspected, the district was as busy as usual with holiday shoppers. Still, lots of shops were closed on a Saturday — an unusual situation, to say the least. Late in the afternoon after having collected several bags filled with gifts, I paused again at another one of my favorite cafés on rue Vieille du Temple to check email, have a tea, and take a load off my feet. At about 5:30 p.m., we heard a roar. The waiters and several of the patrons rushed out to see what was going on. It seemed to be a couple blocks away on rue de Rivoli, so no one made any sudden moves, but that’s when I decided it was time to head directly home. Do not pass go; do not collect $200!
My timing sucked. Little did I know that I’d soon be swimming upstream a mass march of Gilets Jaunes and their supporters (most of which were unadorned in the symbolic vest) along rue Vieille du Temple, while my big bag was getting banged about as I crouched near the walls of the buildings. They were peaceful enough, so I wasn’t worried about my own safety, except for the fact that so many were smoking and feared getting burned from their let cigarettes and inhaling the lethal smoke. Following them was a large group of police who were clearly ready for anything that might happen.
Even with the reports of violence and injuries, the number of protestors were greatly reduced this past Saturday compared to the prior Saturdays: there were 380,000 protestors countrywide on November 17th, while this past Saturday, there were only 76,000 protestors in Paris, as a result of increased police presence and better control. Violence was greatly reduced and everyone was better prepared. That was evident by the police presence I saw and the peaceful way in which the marchers worked their was down the narrow Marais street.
On Sunday, life went back to normal. The city swept up the broken glass, burnt-out cars got towed away, businesses took down their protective boards and it was business as usual. I braved going back to the BHV and Leroy Merlin, both which were inundated with shoppers making up for lost time, just like I was. It was challenging, to say the least, as check-out lines were doubly long. I also managed to squeeze-in three exhibits at the Centre Pompidou, as doubly busy as were the stores.
Likely you’ve seen some of the reports. The protestors have complained that the government hasn’t been listening to them. They claim that M. Macron is arrogant and that he sees them as peasants and idiots. As of Saturday, he hadn’t spoken to the public — so I’m not sure how they know what he thinks, but clearly this is the sentiment that has fueled them. A lot of the protestors have come from outside Paris, the people who need their cars and see their cost of living rise. They see Paris as the gilded pot of gold to which they have no access.
Today Macron will meet with the, trade unions, employers’ organizations and other government officials to come up with ideas and formulate a proper response to this very unstructured movement that has broken all hell loose on France. He is scheduled to finally address the country tonight at 8 p.m. Paris time.
Personally, I feel sorry for M. Macron. He screwed up, that’s for sure. While trying to encourage the rich to come back to France so that their money and taxes can fuel the economy and for international companies to set up shop here and thereby employ more people, at the same time he initiated a tax that he thought would help discourage the use of diesel-run cars, not realizing how it affected those who are already struggling to make ends meet. That was, without a doubt, unenlightened thinking. They see him as arrogant and not a president of the people, and in all honesty, that may very well be true. He doesn’t seem to have a clue what it’s like to be living on minimum wage trying desperately to virtually stay alive while his politics seem to favor the rich. Funny how politics at this time in the U.S. are so similar! Yet, Americans admire the rich and aspire to be them, while the French disdain them. What a different point of view!
I found a few statistics about the movement that you might find interesting:
***16.3 cents/liter is the average increase in the price of diesel fuel in France in one year. This increase was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The price of gas represented one point of disagreement (among others) with the protestors. The government finally retreated on this point and announced on Wednesday the abolition of the fuel tax increase scheduled for January 2019.
***1,125,000 people signed the petition behind the movement and the number of signatures continues to increase.
***Amazon’s algorithm has created an average increase of 22% in the price of yellow vests between November 1st and 30th. The “lumiereholic” vests went from 7.99€ to 8.59€ euros. Those that are unbranded have seen their price climb by nearly 50%, from 3.99€ to 5.90€.
***72% of French support the claims of the Giles Jaunes. New polls are conducted almost daily, but even if some variations appear, the French support the movement by a large majority the demands of the movement.
***460 million euros was lost in revenue by large retailers in the last 17 days of the movement.
***48% increase in audience share for the BFM TV channel between October and November. The first continuous news channel can be very pleased. Its audiences have increased significantly with the major events. Between October and November, BFM TV increased from 2.3 points of audience share to 3.4. Second, LCI recorded an increase of 0.4 points (from 0.7 to 1.1%). So, let’s face it, the movement has been good for some!
***4 to 5 million euros of damage in Paris were estimated from the first two major events. This important sum does not take into account the damage done to the Arc de Triomphe, the Tuilleries Gardens or shop windows.
***65,000 police forces mobilized throughout France on December 8th. Fearing major riots, the government mobilized police forces throughout France.
***56% of the French have changed or will change their consumption habits because of Giles Jaunes. According to an OpinionWay-Perifem poll, the French expect to change their shopping habits. 43% of them say that they will focus on online commerce at the expense of shopping at physical stores.
***4 have died since the beginning of the mobilization. The government’s official records show 820 wounded demonstrators and 200 on the side of the police.
***59% of the French are worried about the turn of the movement. This figure had gained 15 points in one week.
***14 risk areas were defined in Paris for December 8th. Fearing “extreme violence,” the government had placed 14 Parisian geographical areas under close surveillance. Among them, the Place de la Concorde, the National Assembly, Bercy, Opéra and the Place de la République. These strategic points are often located near vulnerable institutions.
***12 armored vehicles were mobilized on December 8th in Paris. Of these armored vehicles of the gendarmerie, 70 were deposed in the countryside and used in the ZAD of Notre-Dame des Landes, and were mobilized for the first time in the streets of the capital city.
Just like Sunday, life goes on in Paris and France. There will be big changes as a result of the protests, but there’s no reason to cancel your vacations in France or fear any personal threat if you’re living here. One of my friends living in Provence keeps a Gilet Jaune in her rear window so that they see she’s on their side, even if she isn’t…but that’s just preventative medicine. The French love to voice their opinion — always have and always will. We residents take it in relative stride and consider it part of the landscape, like it or not.
A la prochaine…
Adrian Leeds Group
P.S. Don’t miss tomorrow’s Après Midi with Laurent Queige! Details are at the top of this newsletter and on our website. See you there!