I'm suing my employers for wrongful dismissal. After four years working as a bilingual secretary for a Paris-based firm of British chartered accountants, I was suspended and sacked when they discovered my personal blog - Petite Anglaise - back in April 2006. The subject matter isn't racy or controversial, but nevertheless up to 4,000 people around the world tune in every day to read "slices of my Paris life". The news of my dismissal sent shock waves around the blogosphere and brought an end to my cherished anonymity.
I pace the corridors of the Conseil des Prud'hommes, where the French equivalent of industrial tribunals are heard. The four prud'hommes, elected workers' and employers' representatives, ask my lawyer to be brief. There's little jurisprudence in France as far as blogs are concerned, so mine is a test case. The prud'hommes perk up noticeably at the prospect of something a bit different. There certainly can't be many hearings that include a debate as to the correct translation of the word "twunt". My lawyer argues that I was fired not because of any misconduct, but because I wrote that I'd blogged from work when idle, and admitted I might have taken a duvet day in 2005. Those admissions, plus a couple of irreverent descriptions of colleagues, are, in a nutshell, how I managed to write myself into the ranks of the unemployed.
Sign of things to come
I order a café crème in the bar by the local police station. To my left, three men pore over an article in Le Parisien bearing the headline: "Clashes between police and parents outside school". Lining the zinc bar are parents from my daughter's school, getting a quick caffeine fix before they stage their peaceful protest. "Look, that's me in the photo," says a woman I vaguely recognise. "See, I was wearing the same hat."
"This is a foretaste of what we might be getting, come May," says one of the men ominously. Sarkozy's name is on everyone's lips. None of those assembled today seems keen to see him move into the Élysée.
Belleville, in eastern Paris, has had a flurry of police raids lately, in which certain ethnic groups are singled out for identity checks. The aim is to round up "sans papiers", many of whose children are (legally) enrolled in local schools. At 6pm on Tuesday, an elderly Chinese man was bundled violently into a police car at a crossroads between three infant and junior schools, in full view of parents and children. Indignant parents surrounded the police car and chanted, "âchez-le!" Regardless of the risk to children, the police used tear gas to disperse the protesters. Minutes earlier, I had walked across that very same crossroads hand in hand with my three-year-old daughter.
I finish my coffee and take up a position outside the police station with a couple of hundred other parents, and reflect that, after ten years of living in France, it's about time I attended my first manifestation and experienced French solidarité first-hand.
Conforming at the prefecture
I've been paying taxes in France for a decade, and am undoubtedly here for the long haul, but to obtain the right to vote I'd have to apply for French nationality. Simple in theory: a bundle of documents to be obtained and translated, followed by a two-year wait. I began assembling the file once before, but fell at the first hurdle.
"You need a recent copy," said the dour-faced lady at the prefecture. "This is not conforme." I looked down at my birth certificate - an original dated 1972 - in horror. The apostille on the back had cost only a little less than the certified translation. Unable to face starting the whole process again from scratch, I admitted defeat.
But, in the light of recent events, I'm willing to brave the bureaucrats and have another go. So that next time I can make my vote count.
First round to me!
The prud'hommes found in my favour! Petite Anglaise: 1, ex-employer: 0. Am now on tenterhooks, waiting to see whether my ex-employer will lodge an appeal.
If so, rendezvous at the Cour d'appel in 18 months' time.
Petite Anglaise is the blogger Catherine Sanderson. http://www.petiteanglaise.com