French Friday: Les Gilets Jaunes

Until last Saturday, most Americans didn’t know about the protests that have been shaking France since late October.

The coverage by the American national news was slow. After all, France is often experiencing protests and strikes. It runs in the DNA of the nation.

But last weekend, as violence escaladed in Paris, I started to receive some texts and emails from American friends expressing their shock.

As you all know, I was born and brought up in France. I left my native land at the age of 30. Many years later, I am no longer a ‘real’ French woman. And yet, France will always stand at the edge of my mind.

So when any significant event happens on my homeland I am naturally ‘there.’

My American friends translated the Gilets Jaunes by the Yellow Jackets. Which made me smile despite the seriousness of the situation.

A Gilet is a Vest in English and not a Jacket, which is a Veste in French. Powerful letter E!

French drivers are required to carry a yellow vest in their car and to wear it if they need to pull over, whether to change a tire or wait for road assistance. The safety protection became mandatory, due to the many accidents involving drivers hit by other drivers as they stood in the emergency lane. The French yellow vests are the American flares or triangles.

The yellow vest seemed then a perfect fit for the people who decided to oppose the increase in France’s fuel tax. If you read, watched or listened the news you likely know that the French government has first delayed the application of the planned tax and then canceled it in response to the violence in and outside of Paris.

I didn’t intend to write about the Gilets Jaunes and won’t attempt to explain a complex movement, but I felt compelled to clarify why a yellow vest and also to add that, as we say in France, the tax was la goutte d’eau qui fait déborder le verre or the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Otherwise, French citizens would already have folded their Gilets Jaunes back in the trunk of their cars and the French government would not have required the support of the French gendarmerie and their armoured vehicles to protect Paris tomorrow.

As I watched the French news and heard some of the French citizens last night I was reminded of Strangers in Their Own Land, an important book that attempted to understand the fight against big government, just before the beginning of the 2016 presidential campaign. I scanned the post I wrote about this book in May 2017 and had forgotten that I also wrote about my provincial upbringing, a significant keyplayer in the current Yellow-Vest movement.

Although a vast majority of French people understand the reasons behind the movement and support the Gilets Jaunes they also condemn violence, loathe the casseurs who come from the extreme right and left, and call for peaceful marches and protests.

May they be heard.



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