Direct Action

P. 365

Since half of the French almost always disagree with whichever government is in power, half are usually unhappy. They often express their unhappiness by direct action.

In 1968, France was shaken by riots and strikes. Students, workers and members of the opposition parties wanted to change the government. They wanted ordinary people to be able to get into the better schools and to get good jobs in government and education. They wanted more of a voice in government and more sharing of resources among everyone.

The protestors did not succeed in changing the government. They did get more of a voice for students in running universities and other institutions. The workers got more say in how industry would be run.

In 1983, students became angry at a leftist government. The government had proposed measures to make it easier to get into university, and the students worried that these measures would make their education worthless. They marched in the streets again. Although there were few battles, vans of riot police waited on the street corners every night.

That same year, travel agents marched in the streets. They were unhappy because the government had limited the amount of money French people could take out of the country. The travel agents thought this hurt their business. They let the government know how they felt by direct action.

A year later, truck drivers were unhappy. They faced long delays at France's border with Italy and wanted things speeded up. They also wanted better wages and working conditions. One busy weekend, they abandoned their trucks on the highways.

Almost every highway was blocked by the huge trucks so that no one could travel. Almost every French person thinks it is a right to protest vigorously against the government. The French also like to argue about politics and government. Many people are fond of the French saying, "How can you govern a country with 265 different cheeses?"

. How would you explain the meaning of this French saying?

Systeme D

Some people say that the only things you can be sure of are death and taxes. Many French people refuse to believe that one has to pay taxes. Not paying taxes is a national game for the French.

It is part of something called systeme D, or the D system. The D stands for debrouillard , meaning "smart" or "able to untangle things." Untangling things, or finding the easiest way through the maze of rules and regulations, is an important part of French life. There are thousands of regulations in French life.


There is probably a law that governs every action you might want to take. Many people find ways of not following the rules. These ways may be either legal or illegal. Some people may have a cousin at city hall who will help them. Or perhaps a friend knows someone who can find a way around the rules. If you use systeme D, you have found a shortcut for doing what you want to do.