Apparently there have been record levels of pollution in Paris over the past three days, something I completely failed to notice. The government has responded by issuing a ban on Monday for any vehicle with an even-numbered license plate, in the hope it will reduce traffic. On Tuesday those with odd-numbered plates will get to leave their cars at home whilst the evens drive to work.
This is monumentally stupid for two reasons. Firstly, you don’t announce on a Friday that half the city’s cars will be banned on the following Monday. People do need time to make alternative arrangements, even in France. Secondly, as the comments below the linked article point out, this has been tried before in various cities, with the effect that people buy a second, beat-up old car to drive on the alternate days. If these restrictions stay in place it will merely add to overall numbers of cars in the city, where finding a unicorn is easier than a parking spot.
Pollution in Paris has been a problem for years, which is why this latest move smacks of a desperate gesture in the run-up to mayoral elections. The public transport system is very good (yes, people complain about the RER and Metro systems, and they are dirty, and there are strikes, but their design is first-rate and although they are uncomfortable, they do the job), but overloaded twice a day. There is also no congestion charge in Paris, for reasons I don’t know (there are speed cameras though, one of them got me yesterday in what was my first proper drive since I got here).
One of the problems is that flexi-time seems to be an alien concept in Paris. Even back in 2000 in my first job in the UK I was told that I needed to do 8 hours per day, starting and finishing when I liked, but I had to be present for “core hours” between 10am and 4pm. God knows when lunchtime was. All essential business was conducted in this 6-hour time slot. But this was highlighted as one of the major differences between Anglo-Saxon and French working cultures in my cultural awareness training session. In theory, you can start and finish when you want in France, but in practice everyone arrives at about 9am-9:30am (some at 8:30am, but very few before that) and stays until at least 6pm with many sticking around until 7:30pm and beyond. The overall working day gets stretched by everyone having a leisurely lunch lasting an hour or more, firstly because this is just the French way of doing things, and secondly because there is a law in France that every company over a certain size must provide either a subsidised canteen or luncheon vouchers (our canteen is spectacular, as one would expect: you choose the steak, a chef takes it out of the fridge and cooks it in front of you). By contrast, Brits generally prefer to ram a stale sandwich down their faces whilst checking the football news online between noon and five past, before getting back to work with the aim of leaving the office as soon as possible and getting themselves down the pub. If you try to do this in a French office you’ll find some joker has organised a meeting for 6pm, sometimes on a Friday afternoon (yes, really). Yet if you tried to organise one for 8:30am or 1pm you’d be sitting there on your own. This does annoy me a bit. When I was in Nigeria somebody once told me I had to make a presentation to a load of managers at 7:30pm or something, and I refused on the grounds that if they cannot conduct their business affairs in office hours then they are not fit to be managers. I didn’t put it quite like that, but I didn’t sugar-coat it either. Small wonder I’m not missed there, but I digress.
Anyway, I have no idea if more flexible working hours would ease the burden on the public transport systems in Paris and encourage more people to use them. And I don’t really have a dog in this fight, as I quite deliberately chose to live close to the office so I wouldn’t get tangled up in this sort of thing. But it served as a handy excuse to write about the French office hours.