Thursday, October 21, 2010

Lady Gaga is Postponing Her Trip, Should You? The News from France

The pictures are shocking. Marseilles' streets strewn with garbage (trash hasn't been collected in over a week now); massive lines at gas stations that are running out of fuel (CNN reports that 1000 stations have now had to shutter due to lack of supply); canceled flights and train runs; helmeted police clashing with protesters. And today the BBC is reporting that protesters have a plan to "step up protests" in the coming days, with possible strikes going on until at least November 3.
Strikers in Marseilles; photo by Tony Gab

These problems, combined with the general terror warning issued by the US State Department on October 3 against travel to all of Europe, and most notably France, are, understandably, making North American travelers nervous. I've received several emails in the last few days into our radio show's mailbox from listeners wondering if they should cancel their upcoming trips to France.

If I had a crystal ball I could answer that question definitively. Since I don't, I'll shoot from the gut and say "yes" if you're planning to travel in the next month (and can get your money back) and "no" if your trip is scheduled for later.

Here's my reasoning: the protests are a tactic that disgruntled citizens are using to try and sway an upcoming vote on new austerity measures (the one that's caused the most ire concerns raising the retirement age from 60 to 62). That vote will occur, according to President Sarkozy, by the middle of next week. There may be several more days of protests and strikes after that (as there has been in the past in France and other European countries, after unpopular measures have been passed) but I would be very surprised, looking at recent history, if the actions go into December or beyond.

Nothing can be guaranteed, of course. I was in Barcelona three weeks ago during a general strike (and the ensuing small riots). It was sparked by austerity measures that had already been signed into law. After that one day of chaos, all returned to calm in Spain. The streets were cleaned, graffiti wiped away and it was almost as if the protests hadn't flared up. Perhaps I'm an optimist, but I'm guessing we'll see a similar timeline in France.

On the terrorism front, I speak as a New Yorker who's seen that anything can happen anywhere and at any time. We need to keep living our lives. From what I'm reading the French have considerably upped the amount of security at the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and other tourist sites. There's not much more they can do. Nor can we definitively say we're safer here in the US. I just got back from Spain and felt as safe there, if not more so,  as I do in my hometown of New York City.

So I'll be taking my family to Europe (Sicily in our case) in the coming months and I'd urge you to do the same. Its a huge area; if we stop traveling to Europe well... To use that old, but true, cliche: we've let the terrorists win. And we don't want to do that.

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