mardi 19 août 2008


“Solidarity” is not a word one hears very often in the Anglophone world, perhaps due to its association with bolshy Socialist ideology. Growing up in Latin America, however, this word creeps into all sorts of discourse, not merely political. “Solidarity” is generally considered a good trait for a person to have, sort of like altruism, but associated less with “charity” given by the high-up to the lowly and more with doing for others what you’d like them to do for you in similar circumstances. It’s a more democratic and egalitarian sort of altruism.

The term is also quite popular here in France. Unsurprisingly, it is a term often bandied around by striking unions and activist political groups. Solidarity is what explains the peculiar tolerance that the average French person has for strikes in spite of the hassle and inconvenience that they cause. Most Parisians don’t raise an eyebrow at the idea of public transport being shut down for weeks due to a strike and having to walk long distances to and from work. While your average expat, like myself, becomes angry and impatient, the average French person tends to support the strikers. Their attitude seems to be that today it’s you having to fight for your job/wages/benefits, but tomorrow it might be me, so I’ll support you in the same way I hope you’ll support me.

The solidarity of the Parisians, however, is most touching at its smallest and most personal. For all the Parisians’ haughty and aloof reputation, I have witnessed some wonderful acts of collective kindness here which I would not expect to see in other large metropolises.

Some months ago I had made a comment here about a long line at my local supermarket willing to wait for an elderly woman to go back to the shelves to find her diabetic products. A few days ago, I had a similar experience on the metro.

I was waiting for the usually horrendously crowded line 4 and the trains were coming more packed than usual. So packed that I couldn’t even get on the first two that came. For the third train, I decided to go all the way to the very front of the platform since there often tends to be more space near the ends of the trains than in the middle. Indeed, I was able to squeeze in along with a few others. As I did so, I noticed that a woman who was sitting on a bench on the platform starts talking excitedly to the conductor, pointing towards the back of the train and saying something about a “pregnant woman”. The conductor got out of his “cockpit” and walked towards the back of the train. Soon, he showed up at the front door escorting the pregnant woman and asking the passengers crowded by the door to make room. Within seconds, people had cleared out, shifted to other parts of the carriage and several empty seats were offered to her. Meanwhile, the packed train was, of course, waiting on the platform. But there were no sighs or grumbles. If you were pregnant, you’d certainly hope to get the same treatment, so you don’t complain when it’s given to others.

1 commentaire:

makietdiego a dit…

I've noticed the same sort of thing in the metro where people will stop to help a woman with a baby carriage carry it down the stairs, or to help blind people cross the street. So, even though there is no mechanical escalator in the metro or sound-based crosswalk signals, solidarite makes it a more livable city.