My mother is sure we're in the midst of it, but in fact the center of Paris is tranquil as usual for a Saturday night (considering that France and Australia are playing rugby tonight, so the downtown pubs are packed). I think the rioters know that the "little jewel" that is the city would be protected with extreme force. In any case they have stayed in the no-go suburbs. Today the Parisien, my favorite French newspaper, had several pages about the riots.
Even though I might find their American equivalent frightening, I've never been afraid of the "bandes de jeunes" in Paris. Maybe it's a simple matter of respect-- they appreciate being treated normally, are usually intrigued to meet an American who speaks French, and always ask me lots of questions. They really have a problem being accepted in France, especially as so many of them have names that give them away instantly as immigrés, even the ones who were born in France and have a good education. Since the economy went bust, their situation is worse than ever. Here are a few quotes from today's paper.
"Messed-up lives" in the Cité des Tilleuls [a Cité is a housing project in a new suburb]
The Cité des Tilleuls in Blanc-Mesnil [on the way to Charles de Gaulle airport] looks nothing like a ghetto. But for the past week, this area where nothing is lacking has been distinguished by its participation in the events inflaming the suburbs. Rachid and his buddies have an incredible "tchatche" [gab] and an answer to everything. They've been on the street for 8 days now. Far from being simple troublemakers, they say that they "have a real political conscience" and follow the news, which they say "disgusts them by its unfairness." Rachid still remembers the famous singer Johnny Hallyday's admission to a major newspaper that he was addicted to cocaine. "Nobody said anything to him, but for a little piece of shit [French slang for hash] the cops throw you to the ground and into jail," he says sarcastically. "There are no happy car-burners."
One thing all these young men have in common is their "messed-up lives" marked by dropping out of school early, after 9th grade. Then the "business high school" or "studying mechanics, jobs with no future" before the first clashes with the law, misdemeanors, car thefts, drug trafficking, considered by some as necessary to "help the family" when "there is nothing to eat," emphasizes Mansour, from the neighboring Cité des 4 Tours. "When my father left, my mother had nothing but a box of cookies in the cupboard. I had deal with it," argues the young man in a brand-name sweatsuit who wants to "become a mediator" so that "the kids aren't like me", although he is only 19. To justify these incidents, they evoke the "hopelessness" and the "lack of opportunities" to "find a job, receive a salary, make a living, go forward into the future." "Being a rioter is not really a career. Someone who sets fire to a car is first of all a victim. It's taking an incredible risk with his life," adds Willy, his hood pulled low over his head.
All of them feel "assaulted" by the "insulting" words of the Minister of the Interior [Nicolas Sarkozy, who called the rioters "voyous et racaille"-- thugs and scum]. "When we're treated as scum, we become scum and we show it. People took him literally-- Sarkozy created the arsonists. He's creating employment in his own way," jokes Rachid, who invites the Minister to "come live here in the Cité for a month. Then we'll see if he still looks down on us. Let him take an under-the-table job for a month with a trashy employer at the minimum wage. When he goes to the bar to buy cigarettes, he'll see how he has to hand out two or three to people who have nothing at all. He needs to learn what real life is like out here before lumping us all together." Their demands? "A job and a place to live for everyone" and to be treated "equally", like the inhabitants of Neuilly-sur-Seine [the posh suburb where Sarkozy was mayor].
"The only way to get ourselves talked about"
Aulnay-sous-Bois, [Département of ] Seine-Saint-Denis
Draman is seated on a low wall, his head deep in a sweatshirt hood, before the twisted, blackened carcass of a Ford Fiesta. "I did that, but not just me. I didn't pour the gasoline. I just lit the seat with a lighter," he says in a neutral voice. This 17-year-old boy, originally from Mali, has been particularly active these past few days in his neighborhood of the "trois keus" (the Cité des 3000) at Aulnay-sous-Bois. After prayer at 7:30 p.m. at the mosque-- like every evening during Ramadan-- and a rapid meal, he goes to meet Moussa, Sofiane and all his friends for an evening of hide-and-seek with the authorities. "It's a little Baghdad every night," he says, pointing at the main road in the neighborhood, strewn with burned bus shelters and cars. "But, well," he argues, "they're only cars, and not even neighborhood cars. No one's been hurt, and no one has pulled a gun."
If he takes part in the riots in Aulnay, it's without any apparent pleasure. "I do it, that's all. It's the only way to get people to take an interest in us. But we know perfectly well that as soon as things get calm again there won't be any cameras around. We won't exist any more," he says grimacing, fiddling with his comb. He's angry with "Sarkozy," "the cops," "politicians," "the media," all at the same time... but also a little at himself. "I did nothing at school," he says, pointing at the Collège Victor-Hugo [collège is junior high school], from which he was expelled at age 14. "If I had known how miserable it is to have no diploma, I would have worked. For me, the taf [work], the future...it's dead."
--Charles de Saint Sauveur
Well, I'm tired of typing now but I do feel sympathy with those kids. Even most of the rich kids I know in Paris can't get real jobs at their age-- just this week there was a demonstration of stagiaires [interns] with masks over the faces to protest against the lack of chances for a real job-- many of them go from one internship to another for years at a time. And so many middle-aged pères de famille are out of work, and will never work again because in France age discrimination is still totally legal. Here are a few examples I just plucked off the web.
1 Electricien confirmé
ENTREPRISE D'ELECTRICITE GENERALE au HAVRE recherche 1 Electricien confirmé. 25/35 ans, niveau 3/4 pour CDI, personne autonome et rigoureuse, rémunération intéressante si persersonne motivée. Tél. après 17h.
recherche negociateur (trice) en immobilier commissions et fixe experience exigée age 25/35 ans bonne presentation,motivé(e) et vehicule.Secteur,93 drancy bobigny blanc mesnil...
le spécialiste des prestations de services dans le domaine de l'hygiène
recrute des déléguées commerciales pour son agence de Paris/RP.
Profil : à 25/35 ans, vous êtes une professionnelle de la vente en B to B, justifiant d'une expérience réussie, de préférence dans le domaine de la vente de prestations de services ou de biens d'équipement.
Rémunération : fixe + frais + commissions + véhicule + participation (2 mois de salaire).
Association catholique nationale cherche son webmestre (H/F)
25/35 ans, diplômé de l’enseignement supérieur il (elle) possède une ou plusieurs expériences réussies de ce type d’emploi en milieu associatif de préférence.