Thursday, May 27, 2010

Thurs 27 May - Train Strike(ish)

Got caught up in an impromptu train strike on my way back from work this afternoon. Had heard mutterings from people as they got on at various stops and managed to work out that the train was terminating at Châtelet, still 40mins short of Mons. This was confirmed by the train manager who reassured us all that a bus would be waiting there, ready to take everyone onto Charleroi, the next stop. He lied. There was no bus. Or any intention of there being a bus.

I listened in on a conversation between someone and the guy working at the station's ticket office. La grève. Strike. Train drivers and staff had staged an unannounced strike, which had started over an hour ago. No one knew why, or for how long. The ticket office worker just greeted every enquiry with that great, stereotypical gallic shrug. The face, the eyebrows, all go up, the shoulders too, and the bottom lip sticks out. It means: "who knows." But, it could also mean: "I don't know, I don't really care, now leave me alone."

I ended up chatting to a couple of people at the station, asking them whether they had any idea how long these things last, and what I should do. They told me just to stay put for now as the whole network had come to a standstill. One of them was on his way to Paris for the French Open the next day. I found out that it's not just us Brits that jokingly take the view that, 'when he wins, he's Britain's Andy Murray, and when he loses, he's Scotland's Andy Murray.' The Walloons do it too. But, when talking about Kim Clijsters. When she wins, she's Belgium's Kim Clijsters, and when she loses, she's Flanders' Kim Clijsters. The same joke is used in the north about Justine Henin, I imagine.

Him, and his partner, also had a good moan about life in Wallonia. About how nothing works, there are always strikes for no reason, it's corrupt, and everyone is stuck at home all day living off state handouts. In fact, they were not the only people I've spoken to from this region who share this view. Two of the students I currently teach, and 2 or 3 before them, have similarly echoed this view. The common theme is envy and anger that Flanders is so far ahead of Wallonia, in virtually every way, and that there's very little good about living in Wallonia. At least two of my past students even told me they were actively looking for ways to emigrate as soon as possible.

I guess one glimmer of light is to be found in a news story which reports that actually last year more foreign businesses chose to invest their money and resources in Wallonia than Flanders.
A reason isn't given in the article, but I imagine it must be cheaper to set up projects in the south, although that must be offset by the excessive bureaucracy and tax burden.

I only ended up waiting just over an hour for the strike to end. Just before 4.30, everything was up and running as normal, as if nothing had happened. And I'm still none the wiser as to why the strike happened in the first place. Reading the Belgian press didn't shed much light on the matter either. That's 3 impromptu strikes since I've been here, I think. Not a patch on France, yet.

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