Tous à la manif !

Tous à la manif !

too sah lah mah-NEEF! Click below to hear this pronounced. 

Everyone to the demonstration!

Oh yes, it is a battle cry!

Let’s go back to 1968. I arrive in France, Rennes to be exact, a young graduate student planning to study medieval French literature and modern Breton. But it’s 1968, and les Événements de mai (lay zay-ven-MAH duh MAY, the May Events) have already taken place. Everyone is a little on edge, a little crazy, or a little scared, or all of the above. There have been strikes, violence, overturned cars.

The university students, always a bit inflammatory, have joined the workers in their grèves (grev, strikes). Classes are supposed to begin in October: grève. November: grève. January: grève.

My next-door neighbor in the house where we both rent a room, a timid middle-aged math professor, begins talking in his sleep: Tous à la manif ! I hear him through the wall. It is an exciting year, and not only because it is my first trip to France.

Fast forward to 2010. Once again, it seems as if everyone in France is on strike. The government wants to raise the minimum retirement age from 60 to 62. Why do the students care? They fear that they won’t have jobs. Not an altogether baseless fear; the unemployment rate in France is already through the roof, about 10%, and rising.

Friday, our Entièrement en français day, will bring a few more remarks about favorite French strike methods.

And what’s a manif, by the way? It’s an abbreviation for une manifestation, a demonstration.

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