Nothing says springtime in Paris like the smell of garbage.
Well, this week anyway. The city’s waste collection service has been on strike for over a week, and in many neighborhoods that rely exclusively on that service, it's become a real problem.
After all the rain and floods lately, Thursday was finally a beautiful, warm and sunny spring day. Parisians and tourists were filling the outdoor terraces at cafés, but on some streets, the smell of days-old trash made it difficult to enjoy a drink outside. It’s not on a par with, say, the odor of garbage piles in New York on an August night. But there are overflowing bins on the sidewalk. Some of the iconic cafés in the Latin Quarter are using private companies to haul the smelly loads off their sidewalks.
It isn't just the trash collectors striking, though. The National Railway Service (SNCF) was on strike for its ninth consecutive day Thursday in a shutdown that has disrupted travel across France. Oil refinery workers have been on strike for weeks, threatening a gas shortage. Starting Friday, the city police go on strike, and this weekend it’s Air France pilots’ turn. On top of that, next Tuesday is expected to be a national day of strikes.
The protest movement that led to the strikes began over three months ago in reaction to the French government’s labor law reform. The new law would give employers more leeway to hire and fire employees, and expand or reduce work hours and pay. Seventy percent of French workers are against this reform.
And now, France is hosting the Euro 2016 soccer tournament. About 2.5 million ticket holders are expected during the month-long competition, and over 7 million people in "fan zones” around the country, where soccer enthusiasts can watch the games live on a giant screen.
So some Parisians are beginning to feel embarrassed about all this chaos. The daily Le Parisien ran a sarcastic headline Thursday: "Bienvenue en France!" (Welcome to France!) paired with a photo of union workers on strike greeting travelers at the Gare de l'Est terminal in Paris.
Many French people are worried about their country's image abroad, and fear this "strike culture" and a potentially disastrous soccer cup could jeopardize Paris' chances of becoming the 2024 Olympic City.
The Euro 2016 opens with a match between France and Romania, at the Saint Denis stadium just outside Paris. On the eve of that opening game, 10 fan zones were inaugurated across France, including one at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. The gigantic enclosure hosted a huge concert with major pop stars, and an estimated 80,000 fans.
This kind of gathering has security officials on edge. British daily The Independent quoted a French security source saying, "It's as if we have created 10 open-air Bataclans and invited the jihadists to do their worst," referring to the terrorist attack that killed 90 people at the Paris theater last November. But the city says there are heavy security measures in place in the zones, similar to what travelers would face at an airport — with about 50 surveillance cameras, thousands of security guards, bag searches, and no bottles or liquids allowed inside.
Between the trash and the flood damage, Paris is not quite its usual glamorous self as this major sporting event begins. The river Seine is a curious pea-soup color, with tree trunks floating in some parts. The banks of the river are covered in dried mud and sand, which the city’s cleaning services are busy scrubbing off.
But the visitors seem to be rolling with it. Groups of tourists all over the city Thursday seemed happy to be here, enjoying a warm sunny day in Paris. Many were eating ice cream cones while walking on the muddy banks of the brownish river.
And no one was complaining.