Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Cycling through France-Switzerland-Germany

About two weeks ago when the Russian embassy told me that they wouldn't be approving my visa, and the airline wouldn't be refunding my tickets, I realised that I needed to do something just as fun but also cheap. So I bought about a 40 year old racing/touring bike from a guy in Paris and drew an itinerary which can be seen below.

When most people think of long distance bike touring, they think massive mountains, inhaling truck fumes on freeways, getting beeped by angry drivers etc etc. Thats's probably the case in Australia, but not in France (and I hope not in Switzerland and Germany). The European Union have constructed 15 bike routes throughout Europe, the one I'm on at the moment (eurovelo6) goes from western France to Romania, and apparently it's 70% bike tracks. The rest is on quiet country roads, so I've only seen a few trucks.

How far am i going? According to google maps, the trip im doing is around 500km, which is not that far over two weeks, and even Mylene has done some of it with me (but has had enough and is going home tomorrow). I started from her hometown in southern burgundy, cycled through the famous wine region known as the "route des grand crus", to dijon (where Mylene came and met me), and now all the way to basel, in switzerland, then to Freiburg in Germany, and back in to Alsace in France. I should be crossing into Switzerland in two days.

What I'm really loving about this so far, is that there are medieval villages every few km's, so the ride is always interesting. I hate to use the word "quaint", but it is the best word to describe (most of) them. Each have a bakery, a post office and a bar. Within the bars there are old guys betting on horses and drinking at midday, yes, French people do that too (except they drink wine and not beer). Most of the bigger villages have a sign on the entrance rating them in terms of how pretty they are by the amount of flowers (the system is known as "ville fleurie"). Only in France would someone be paid to rank villages on that basis...

But so far, all has been awesome. I don't know the first thing about bikes (except pumping the tyres) but at least I know that if something goes wrong, I'm not stuck in the middle of the desert somewhere. One thing I have learnt though- sticking the bottle holder to a bike with sticky tape does not hold long. I'll hopefully write again in the next few days if something good happens.

Note: the second picture is from southpark, in a local bar (which doesn't remind me of village bars here, but it's still funny). "Hey! We don't take kindly to your types around here"

Sunday, 21 April 2013

The 35 work-week in France

France has a lot of great stereotypes, some positive and some not. One of my favourites is that of the French worker. The Frenchman has his famous 35 hour week, inclusive of coffee breaks and unlimited sick days. Any questioning of this from his superiors will immediately result in a call to the trade union, causing an industry-wide strike; nation-wide protests are the result, and workers can stay at home drinking wine and discussing philosophy until the government increases wages and improves conditions. The 35 hour week survives, and this very old tradition, which probably dates back to the French revolution, continues. This is a fantastic stereotype, and is something which I've always perpetuated (and still do). There is only one problem; it's not actually true.

As a result of the current economic situation in Europe, this generation of young French people is being called generation precaire, meaning 'the precarious generation', given that it's so difficult to find work. Even many of those who are graduating with Masters degrees from top universities are going from one poorly paid 'internship' to another, and not 1-day-per-week-whilst-at-uni-internships like in Australia, 12 hours a day internships, getting paid around $120 per week. Those who have found real work are certainly not working 35 hours a week, and people seem to be working far longer hours than anyone I know in Australia. A friend, for example, doing an internship in a law firm, sees it as a victory if he leaves at 10pm each night; "at least they pay for my dinners", is his justification. Once they get a proper job, they'll do their best to keep it; French young people (seem to) have no concept of 'pissing off overseas' like Australians do, unless for study or internships.

So how lazy and inefficient are French people?
Many argue that this 'lazy' culture is responsible for all of France's current problems, yet, according to official statistics, French workers are more productive (they can produce a good faster and cheaper) than most other European countries, including the Germans, and also, the very hard working Americans, as well as Australian workers. I know most of my friends reading this (who care about these issues) will disagree with this statistic, as this hilarious stereotype is so well ingrained. But who knows, maybe the French are right on this one.