Bronjour: Protests in France

96 days down, 12 more to go… not that I’ve been counting or anything.

To break up the last few weeks, I’ve been trying to squeeze in as much travelling as possible. Montpellier isn’t far from several famous towns and cities and getting from A to B is fairly straightforward in France. At least, it was fairly straightforward before the gilets jaunes (yellow vests) movement began.

Other than delays and roads being blocked, the gilets jaunes hadn’t affected me too much until Saturday. I should mention that I completely support what the gilets jaunes are fighting for. The cost of living in France is ridiculous and government plans to increase taxation unfairly target working class people.

Despite knowing that there were going to be big protest all over the country, two of my friends and I planned to visit Avignon- a beautiful city in Provence- in hope of seeing the Palais des Papes and the hilltop gardens ‘Jardin des doms’. Since Avignon isn’t a major city, we naively thought we’d miss the drama altogether.

As soon as we found the centre, we noticed immediately how quiet it was. This was definitely the calm before the storm. In the space of about an hour, more and more gilets jaunes assembled in the centre until it was completely packed with protesters shouting “Emanu!” (short for Emmanuel Macron).

Things pretty quickly turned sour as fireworks were launched at the riot police and canisters of tear gas were thrown into the crowds. Shops and cafes began to boot their customers out, block the windows and lock the doors to avoid being targeted as the crowds spread from the main road into the side streets.

Most people there weren’t there for a fight. The only troublemakers weren’t even wearing yellow vests. From what I saw, there were a lot of teenagers (some who only looked about 12) setting fireworks off in the crowds and rioting.

The craziest part of it all is that we seemed to be the only people bothered by all of the commotion. The French just seem to live their life as normal. People were out walking their dogs and casually strolling down the street as if they weren’t metres away from flares and exploding fireworks. There were even really young kids riding scooters alongside their parents walking through clouds of tear gas with their scarves over their faces like it wasn’t a big deal.

The only time anyone seemed a bit rattled was when people started running from newly thrown tear gas canisters. As soon as anyone heard a bang, crowds of people would sprint off in all directions.

As the protests were escalating, the police had blocked the main roads in and out of the city. In the end, our trip to Avignon became more of an Escape from Avignon.

The next big protest is scheduled for next Saturday. Safe to say I’ll not be attempting to travel anywhere.