Euroarmaggedon Tour — Saturday backstory

| December 10, 2011

OK, as mentioned below, I got a grand total of two man-on-the-street interviews today. I was probably lucky to get that, all things considered.

Sometime early this morning, while thinking about my goals for this trip, I came to the conclusion that my probability of success was pretty low in doing cold approaches on strangers whose language I didn’t speak and who likely didn’t speak my language in turn. So instead I went to a nearby store, bought some large (A3) drawing papar and a large marker, and made two signs that read:

American writer wants
to interview you about
Eurozone/EU crisis.

(Il ne parle pas français.)

There was an area with low polished stone walls (surrounding three sides of a car ramp doing down to an underground garage) near the entrance to our hotel. I planned to tape the two signs to that wall, set up my camcorder on a tripod, take out my clipboard and notebook, and wait for the interviews to roll in.

Now, before you laugh too hard, stop and think about it. If a French reporter set him(or her)self up in Times Square — and the Champs-Elysees is a cross between Times Square (sans billboards) and the biggest upscale mall you can imagine — and put up a sign saying that he wanted to talk about America’s economics problems, he’d probably have a line a mile long. Of course, if he limited it to those who could speak French, it would be much, much shorter, but given (as we are told) how English is a universal language in Europe (and, indeed, most of the world), that shouldn’t be as much of an issue.

Anyway, the first problem I ran into was the one mentioned in my last post: there was a serious police sweep, with serious-looking police, going on pretty much right where I had planned to set up. After watching them for a little while and realizing they weren’t going to be done any time soon, we moved about half a block up towards the Arc de Triomphe, where there are a similar stone wall around a pedestrian subway. I set up the signs, set up the camera, took out my nootbook, and waited.

And waited. And waited.

Lots of people walked by, reading the sign, glancing surripitously at me, then avoiding any further eye contact. Then, after about 15 minutes of this, four young men set up some audio equipment on the sidewalk about 25-30 yards away from me, turned on some hip-hop music, and began to breakdance. I kid you not: within 30 seconds, a crowd of 100+ people had formed a square around them. They performed (loudly) for about 20 minutes, took a 10-minute break, then started all over again. This continued the whole time I was out there.

[Continuing to write the next morning] I really was lagged last night. Sat down this morning to finish this post and had to un-check several of the categories I had set (Credit Backlash, Holidays, Intelligence, Japan).

Anyway, yesterday I did end up with the two interviews (and the walk-by cursing) I posted about below. I also had two groups of youth — one all female, the other a mix — come up to practice their English on me, giggle, then move on. I had a few people (again, teens/20s) take photos of me (“Yeah, there was the crazy old American out on the Champs-Elysees…”).

I’m going to word the sign differently today, partly as a linguistic experiment, partly because I’m not sure my wording yesterday was felicitous. It struck me afterwards that — given the stakes for France and for all of Europe — it was a bit like setting a sign up outside of an oncology ward saying, “I want to interview you about your relative with cancer.”

More police sirens during the night, though I don’t know whether that’s typical on the Champs-Elysees or not.

On tap for today: a guided tour of the Eiffel Tower (avoiding the enormous, slow lines), and then an attempt to gather more interviews. Stay tuned. ..bruce..

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Category: Emergency Preparedness, Eurocrisis, France, Geopolitics, Main, Recession Watch, Sea of deficits

About the Author ()

Webster is Principal and Founder at Bruce F. Webster & Associates, as well as an Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at Brigham Young University. He works with organizations to help them with troubled or failed information technology (IT) projects. He has also worked in several dozen legal cases as a consultant and as a testifying expert, both in the United States and Japan. He can be reached at bwebster@bfwa.com, or you can follow him on Twitter as @bfwebster.

Comments (1)

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  1. Nathan G says:

    Hello Bruce,

    I found your site from the link on Ace of Spades. After reading your post about trying to do your man on the street interviews I HAD to contact you.

    I have some experience trying to talk to average French folks in the streets of France as I am a Mormon and served my mission in France from 2002 to 2004. While the tactic I’m about to give you is not one I personally used, several people I met (not of the Mormon faith) used it to discuss their faith with others. If you want to talk to a French person, the most luck you’ll have is by setting up in a sidewalk cafe probably over by the Universities or near the Chatlet Les Halles Metro Station (since it’s one of the busiest in all of Paris). Have an obvious empty chair in front of you and your sign. You’re basically inviting them to sit down with you and discuss things over drinks. Then they’ll talk. For hours. But remember, you invite, you pay. This wasn’t well suited for religious discussions but for general economic discussions you’ll do fine.

    As for the police roundup, from my experience they do that from time to time because they are trying to catch undocumented illegal aliens (generally from Africa). The turnstile jumping is a common practice and they’ll do periodic checks of everybody getting off or on at a metro station to catch turnstile jumpers (those without a ticket).

    The 3 team automatic weapons sweeps at the Christmas Market are probably a bit unusual but you’ll frequently see them at airports and busy tourist destinations. France is not exempt from Islamic terrorism so they’re probably at the Christmas market to deter that. The catch with those teams is that there is usually one guy who DOESN’T carry an obvious weapon and if you look really closely at the automatic weapons, you’ll notice they don’t have clips in them. They don’t trust their own police to carry loaded automatic weapons around so the guy without a rifle carries the bullets and distributes them when the shooting starts.

    As for the “Occupy” protest, if you see a bunch of people that look like they belong with the Occupy crowd but no tents, no obvious protest signs but a lot of dogs, those are just the SDF’s of France. That’s San Domicile Fixe: Homeless. Since France is such a generous socialist state, generally you’re only homeless if you want to be. So think of them as a cross between punks and hobos. They’re generally pretty low in the social order and looked down on in France. I was told they keep dogs so that they won’t be arrested since they are responsible for the care of the animals. They sit around town squares smoking, drinking, fighting and begging. They’re probably not the best for interviews. I’d advise you to steer clear. If they have tents and signs, they might be part of the occupy movement but my money is they’re just SDFs.

    I can’t think of anything else at the moment but I look forward to reading your other posts and If you have any other questions please don’t hesitate to contact me.

    Thanks
    Nathan