Tag Archives: economy

Fight for your right to… work?

Blame it on the churros. Or the pumping early 90’s American dance beats. Or the sky high CGT blimps. Whatever the reason, I found myself unexpectedly caught up in France’s national strike on Thursday, January 29. As I stuffed my face with sugary fried dough, I realized the irony of how I had spent the entire day frantically searching for a job in Paris while the rest of France played hooky from work.

The Communists, the Socialists, the teachers, the retirees, the unemployed – even those who weren’t sure why they were there (clearly marked by their “grève générale” stickers) had conglomerated at Metro Bastille to protest teacher cuts, reduced purchasing power, fewer unemployment benefits, less medical coverage and general discontent with French life.

French students, teachers, trade unions and parents demonstrate in Paris

As an American, I couldn’t understand it. Much of France’s je ne sais quoi appeal involves not just great coffee, pastries and fashion, but tangible benefits: a 35-hour work week, paid medical and dental insurance, 25 days paid vacation, and 16 weeks maternity leave with the option of taking three years off (unpaid) from work while retaining total job security.

And what if you should lose your job in this feeble economy? Getting laid off in France means receiving up to 75% of your salary for months, even years, (often receiving more than you would gaining the minimum wage), free job training and advice, and the ability to keep your health insurance. Being a chomeur is so great, in fact, that many young people purposely quit their jobs, take up the benefits and go traveling for a few months.

So as President Sarkozy fights to the death to keep jobs for French citizens, many of those same citizens are abusing the unemployment system in order to avoid working altogether. And that laissez-faire attitude is taking its toll. While France is still one of Europe’s economic darlings (ranked fifth in the world according to its nominal GDP) it has one of the lowest percentages of hours worked compared to other developed countries. And as of October 2008, France had 4 million people on chomage and an 8% unemployment rate – one of the highest in Europe.

Mass nationwide strike in France

Yet here I sat, work permit in hand, and I could not get a job. Call it that old French mistrust of immigration where “stranger equals danger,” but it seemed to most employers that my situation was just too “complicated.”

While France has advanced in many ways over the years, its immigration policies have not: in order for Americans to work here, we need a permit from the government. But we cannot get the permit without getting the job first. And voilà, instant conundrum. Apart from marrying a French citizen, becoming a lifelong student or going through the painstaking process of starting your own business, Americans are left in a catch-22 that even MacGyver wouldn’t be able to work himself out of.

Luckily, Americans seem to be born with eternal optimism and an inner drive to work hard that is somewhat lost on the European “work to live, not live to work” mentality. Not that reducing our self-worth to a job timetable is necessarily a positive thing, but it certainly prepares us for a good fight.

So if your American dream involves a healthy serving of croissants and blue cheese, prepare for a Hercules-sized battle against those notorious French bureaucratic sticks and spears – but don’t throw down your shield just yet. If Americans can elect a black president only 50 years after employing racially separated drinking fountains and bus seats, we can surely figure out how to do a simple thing like working in France, right?

This article was originally published in the April 2009 edition of Brit’mag.

The job search starts here: A look at a few booming world economies

During a recent trip to the UK and Ireland, the economic crisis was on everyone’s lips. I happened to reach London just as the pound dropped into the toilet, and landed in Dublin to hear that 15 years of economic growth was for nought. And a friend of a friend from L.A. said that every time he calls his newspaper editor pal to ask him what he did that day, the answer is, “I laid some more people off.”

As we job hunters sit squarely planted on our derrieres in front of the TV, watching one side of the couch indent increasingly deeper, it sounds like there’s no hope left. But after a little research, I have decided not to book my trip home to my parent’s house quite yet. The economy may be floundering here, but what about there?

According to an October article on http://www.businesspundit.com, there are a few places on earth where it doesn’t cost 12 pounds/euros/dollars to buy a cheeseburger and where finding a job doesn’t mean waiting it out for the next ten months on food stamps. Here, their top ten, with my two cents thrown in.

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10. China (Although, I am skeptical of this one, considering the news of late): You see? Communism does work.

9. Brazil: An even better reason to start working on your tan.

8. Romania: Fine, you don’t speak Romanian, but they do have an award-winning gymnastics team!

7. Thailand: The most amazing sunsets in the world and great pad thai on the street for cheap. Just beware of the occasional coup.

6. North Korea: Okay, you might never be able to come home again, but at least the job security is for life! And if you ever get sick of hearing about nuclear missile developments, you can always risk it and hop the border to the South, where extremely well-paid English teaching jobs are in abundance.

5. Iran: Apparently some of the friendliest people in the world, who are very eager to invite foreigners (yes, even Americans) into their homeland. And yet another country with a powerful nuclear program (is this just a coincidence?).

4. Malaysia: I’ll give you ten dollars if you can correctly identify the exact location of this country, plus one fun-fact. Because I can’t.

3. Morocco: Long gone are the days of dusty roads and rigid religious-based rules. Females are free to walk the streets uncovered, the economy is booming and it’s close enough for a mini-vacation to Spain or France.

2. Armenia: Perhaps the reason Armenia is doing so well is because no one has ever heard of it. Or if they have heard of it, they never think about it. In reality, their international obscurity has meant not relying on outside governments to keep their economy afloat. And voilà, here they are at number two.

1. The United Arab Emirates: There’s more to this country than Dubai, despite what sex-on-the-beach obsessed Brits may think. This oil-rich, culturally diverse nation is worth not only a short trip, but being put on the list for your next job move. It may just be the world’s only sure thing.

Continued good luck to all those job seekers out there! This can’t possibly last forever…

Have a Merry Green Christmas – in France

As the holidays approach, it’s easy to throw away your conscience and indulge freely in the festivities. But this Christmas, remember that we’ve got not only an economy to save, but an environment too. If you’re living in Aquitaine, France this holiday season, read these tips for ways you can help preserve our planet while still getting in on the fun.

1) Cut back on Christmas lights. In the last ten years, light pollution has become a growing problem and France has seen a 30% increase in the general use of lights, according to the Agir Pour L’Environnement association. In 2007, towns in France spent more than one million euros to light up their streets during the winter.

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This Christmas, remember that a little goes a long way. Instead of decking out your house with plastic Santas and twenty strings of multi-colored light, go for fewer and more subtle strands to get the same effect or seek out LED (Light Emitting Diode) bulbs, which are more energy efficient than regular bulbs and can last for years without burning out. Whatever you choose, be sure to turn off lights during the day and when you go to bed to save even more energy.

2) Stop the present wrapping madness. Besides all the retail packaging involved in many toys, kitchenware and electronics, there’s also the issue of gift-wrapping. Wrapping paper, bows and cards can accumulate quickly if you’ve got a big family or are feeling generous this year. The Syndicat Départemental des Déchets de la Dordogne says that in 2007, Périgord residents created 645 kilos of waste per person for a total of about 240,260 tons – the equivalent in kilos of 431 AIRBUS A380 planes.

With the season of giving comes a marked increase in the amount of waste we produce. It’s not to say you can’t get in on the fun of opening presents, but instead use fabric, newspaper or recyclable paper, use as little as possible and make sure to recycle afterwards. You can also forego the paper completely by hiding gifts around the house and sending family members on a treasure hunt to find them.

3) When giving gifts, think about eco-friendly items. If it’s sweets you’re after, go for organic products that respect the environment like Alter Eco, Kaoka or Cemoi Chocolatier. Consider organic beauty products from Weleda or Emma Noël. Or look for items that aren’t smothered in plastic packaging. When considering battery-operated gifts, look for those with rechargeable batteries or powered by solar energy.Present

Send e-cards instead of paper ones, make gifts instead of buying, and above all, re-use bags when out shopping – each year in France, 70,000 tons of plastic bags are consumed. You can also think about donating money to a charity organization in honor of your friend or family member, generating very little waste at all. Heifer International gives money to impoverished communities around the world to buy local animals, which provide them with valuable and continuing resources like food and income.

4) Think about how much gas you’re using over the holiday season. The holidays mean lots of driving around going shopping and to parties, and staying up into the wee hours trying to get everything done by Christmas Eve. Try to carpool as much as possible to avoid spending extra money on gas, and consider walking places before immediately jumping in the car. To reduce heating costs at home, grab a cozy sweater, turn off the heat and light up the fireplace instead.

5) Just say no to fake trees. Although it can take a little extra work and be a bit of a mess, consider buying a live tree to decorate for Christmas instead of a fake one. Besides reducing waste, a single tree can absorb more than a ton of CO2 over its lifetime. Christmas trees are specially planted for the season, meaning their removal doesn’t contribute to greater deforestation. But don’t just throw it away at the end of the season – it will go into the already exploding landfills. Instead, contact your mairie to find out if they provide a service for picking up or dropping off Christmas trees.

IKEA has partnered up with the ONF (Office National des Forêts) once again to provide vouchers for those who bring their trees into the store between January 2 and 19. Customers will get 19 euros to spend in the store, the tree will be transformed into compost and 1 euro will go towards the ONF and its diverse nature preservation projects. You can also use ‘un sac à sapin de Noël’, a specially designated, biodegradable plastic bag to use when tossing your tree in with other recyclables. Part of the proceeds goes to Handicap International, an association that helps handicapped citizens. Or, if you have the means, you can chop, chip, mulch or compost your tree yourself for use in the garden or fireplace.

6) Reduce your carbon footprint by sending direct. If you’re living abroad, you’re probably buying gifts online. Instead of sending the gift to yourself to hand wrap and send again, send the gift directly to your receiver. You’ll not only save money, but reduce the transportation costs of getting your present to its destination.

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7) When decorating your tree, minimize costs and waste by reusing decorations year after year. Make your own from recyclable materials or buy from second-hand stores. Keep your tinsel and garlands to be reused as well. You can also knit your own Christmas stocking instead of buying new. Browse the internet for a list of patterns.

Happy planet-friendly holidays!