It had been in the planning stage more than three months: the careful selection of travel plans, the weaving of a web of agents on two sides of the Atlantic, the subtle campaign of disinformation. And then, on Christmas Day, it was finally time to launch …
Operation “Ninja Claus”
Now, if you’re not already familiar with my story, you’re going to need a little background first. Since I’m married to a Frenchman, we alternate the location of our Christmas celebrations each year: one year in France, the next in South Carolina. Last year, we spent a beautiful Christmas with my parents — you can read about it here — so this year, it was my turn to celebrate with Michel’s family in France. Now, as much as I love and cherish my French family, it’s always hard to be 4,000 miles from my parents, especially on a day like Christmas and especially since I don’t get to see them that often. Just after our last visit in September (when it was so very hard to say goodbye), I remembered that Michel’s family tradition is actually to celebrate on Christmas Eve, and that put a bee in my bonnet: “Why not celebrate Christmas Eve in France … and fly home to surprise my folks on Christmas Day?”
Besides the record-breaking cold temperatures, the big news this week in France is the grève — the strike — at Air France. Essentially a “strike about the right to strike,” it was called by the unions representing Air France’s pilots, cabin crews, and ground crews to protest legislation that would impact their right to walk off the job. Now, you should know up front that workers’ rights are a big deal in France: the 35-hour workweek, generous unemployment benefits, and strong union representation are ingrained in the national consciousness here. As a matter of fact, the right to strike (“le droit de grève“) is actually enshrined in the French Constitution of 1946. Nevertheless, since 2008, railway and bus employees have been subject to a regulation to ensure “the continuity of public service” in ground transportation by requiring 48-hour notice of the intent to strike and the provision of “minimum service” during the strike. Last month, the Assemblée Nationale passed legislation expanding this regulation to include air travel as well, and the Senate is expected to take it up later this month. That, in a nutshell, is why the departures board at Charles-de-Gaulle was lit up in red today. Continue reading Looking for work, or walking off the job?
One of the benefits of extensive foreign travel is a really FAT frequent flyer account, and since meeting my French husband, Michel, back in 2009, I’ve certainly racked up the miles. In 2009 alone, I flew back and forth between Washington and Paris four times on Air France, traveling almost 32,000 miles. I added 16,000 more miles to my travel log in February and April of the following year. That’s almost 50,000 miles traveled between Washington and Paris in just one year’s time! Aside from swelling my carbon footprint to shameful proportions, all that jetting back and forth got me a free one-way ticket to Paris in 2010 to begin my French expatriate adventure.
I should say up front that I prefer Air France to any American airline I’ve ever flown. I’m proud to be an American and all, but let’s face it: there’s something infinitely more charming about free-flowing champagne, wine, and cognac served up by French flight attendants wearing foulards than anything you normally get on an American flight … and I’m just talking about economy class, here. In fact, Air France doesn’t even call their upscale version “economy class” or “coach class”—it’s “voyageur.” Just read that out loud and you’ve already got a French accent!
It was the first time that my husband and I had traveled across the Atlantic together: US Airways 787 from Paris-Charles de Gaulle to Charlotte Douglas International on Saturday. Michel has visited me in the United States before, of course: the first time was in December 2009 to meet my friends and family, and the second time was in July 2010, when we got married before my departure for France. But Saturday was a particularly interesting travel day: Jean Reno and a jackass immigrant officer at CDG, an obnoxious flight attendant with an apple and a pear, and a surprisingly warm welcome at immigration control in Charlotte. Continue reading Jean Reno, apples & pears, and my French husband