December 25 was coming up fast. We always celebrate December 25, some years with a family party, but usually with a trip to one of Europe’s many captivating old cities. This year Alsace-Lorraine was the plan.
Flights were organised, hotels booked, travel insurance purchased – even a special package for our phones, to get cheap-rate calls back to Israel, organised.
This morning, the alarm roused us at 05:30, time to get ready for our six o’clock taxi to the airport. We have done this many times and enjoyed trips to many interesting places, but this time was different. Alsace-Lorraine is in France and the French transport workers, fed up with working a gruelling 35-hour week, and having to wait until 62 to retire with large pensions, had brought France to a standstill.
A glance at the news headlines showed us that France was not the place to be for this year’s December 25 celebrations. The transport workers had been joined by air traffic controllers, postal workers and other public service staff. Apart from striking buses, taxis and trains, travel generally will be made even more difficult by truck drivers who intend to blockade major roads. Ambulance drivers, hospital workers and firefighters are expected to add their bit to the country’s misery. Even the police are to support the strikes and will not take part in airport or motorway checks throughout the day. It was not clear if terrorists will also be on strike.
At Charles de Gaulle airport, immigration officials were taking six minutes inspecting each visitor’s passport instead of the usual 45 seconds. Just getting out of the airport was taking hours. The decision was quickly made – this year’s December 25 would have to be celebrated at home.
It is easy to complain about life in Israel – the bureaucracy, the drivers, the people, but our experience today made us proud to be Israelis (and glad we are not French).
We cancelled the taxi which was already on its way – no charge, the driver said, have a nice day. We phoned El Al, just three hours before the flight was due to leave – we’re very sorry, it’s too late to give you a refund, but we can “freeze” the booking and re-issue the ticket any time in the next eight months, no charge. Perhaps the French will have come to their senses by then.
The hotels, all booked on-line, were easy. Click “Cancel” to cancel, their web pages offered. Click, click, click – all done, no charge.
A call to our phone provider elicited sympathy, and after a few minutes consultation with their manager, cancellation of our package – no charge.
Our travel insurance, not an insignificant sum for two not-so-young people with several “pre-existing” conditions” was a little more complicated, our agent had to contact the insurers, and we won’t get an answer for a day or so, but it will be alright, we were assured.
But why, I hear you ask, are you celebrating December 25 – Christmas has nothing to do with us. The answer is very simple – December 25 is my birthday.