Let me open on a personal note. Seven years after first arriving in France as a nervous and naïve exchange student, I officially became "naturalised" as a French citizen last month. The application, in keeping with the stereotype and infuriating reality of French bureaucracy, required mountains of paperwork and almost two years of patience. It also involved a rather comical interview during which I was asked to name the French president, prime minister and the colours of the French flag. I evidently passed the test, as eight months later I received a rather anticlimactic letter informing me that my name had been published in the legal Journal officiel and that I had therefore become French by decree. The process would only be completed, however, by attending a "naturalisation ceremony". Mine was four months later.
I arrived at the prefecture de police at the hour specified - we had explicitly been told not to arrive early, no waiting space - and joined a queue of other citizens-to-be in the rain. I had dressed up for the occasion, and immediately felt out of place; most were in jeans. Five minutes late the door opened, a group of just-naturalised people streamed out, and we filed in, brandishing our "convocation" summoning us there and our ID. More papers were checked, more waiting was required. Finally, we were ushered to the Salle Marianne which was - there is no getting around this - horrendously ugly. No windows, claustrophobically low ceiling, fluoro green plastic chairs - France's famous chic was not au rendezvous.
We sat, and were unceremoniously handed our packet of documents. This contained a letter from Monsieur le President and another from Prime Minister Valls, a birth certificate (apparently necessary to apply for a passport, the real deal), the lyrics to the national anthem (which would come in handy 15 minutes later), and a list of our new rights and responsibilities. La cérémonie then began. Part 1, video of Les valeurs de la République - liberté, égalité, fraternité and, more recently added, laicité. These were all pretty standard to me but, looking around the room, I realised that for others the fact that these principles are more or less respected in this country was a far cry better than where these new citizens had come from. I felt lucky.
Next, rights and duties. Enter tank and fighter jet - we should fight for our new country. I was taken aback - nobody told me that was part of the deal. Another duty, to vote - I'm more than happy to do that, although like in many countries, the current options leave much to be desired. The video concluded, an official got up to give the welcome speech that she gives twice a day, every day. Before we knew it, we were standing to sing the Marseillaise. With half the room scrambling for the words, reading them for probably the first time and realising it is actually a violent call to arms, the voices were soft and few until we got to the chorus. My eyes brimmed - violent or not, the Marseillaise is a rousing song - but before I got carried away it was abruptly over and we were filing out again.
It is certainly a tumultuous time to become a French citizen - la République is the most fragile I have ever seen her. Protests against the proposed labour reforms drag on, yet perversely as the inconvenience caused by these prolonged protests increases, general public support for them wanes. Total workers blocked a number of refineries, generating long lines of cars at petrol stations fuelling up out of fear. SCNF and AirFrance workers continue to strike, delaying trains and planes and frustrating thousands of travellers. Rubbish collection services have been slowed, leading to overflowing bins and rubbish piling up on the footpath. Street protests continue and with them, violent clashes with police. Even walking along Canal Saint Martin last Saturday, my path was blocked by a row of riot police, who had closed in on protesters on all sides and had thrown tear gas into the crowd. The public is therefore not feeling too kindly towards the police - which apparently upset them, as a few weeks they staged their own protest contre la haine anti-flic (literally: against the hate against the cops). Not that the protesters are perfect either. Earlier this week, we were drawn to the window of our apartment around 10pm by cries and loud noises, only to see a more rowdy branch of protesters marching up our street and destroying everything in their path – smashing shop windows and ATMs, throwing the rubbish bins across the road, and pulling building site fences down to also block the road.
And this is just the response to the labour reforms, which comes on top of France's struggle with low growth, stubborn unemployment, lack of success to date in dealing with the migrant crisis humanely and efficiently, and the high terrorist threat, of which we were reminded most recently by the stabbing of a police officer and his wife in their home.
To top it all off, there were the floods. For the first few days of unrelenting rain, I was simply grumpy that Spring had only lasted a week and Summer wasn't looking particularly promising - and that I was arriving at work every morning with soggy shoes. Then the media became saturated with flood photos and I realised that a lot of people in Ile-de-France had much bigger problems to deal with. Some of the photos were apocalyptic - people wading waist-deep, cars overturned, highways cut in half and railway lines turned into canals. In Paris, metro stations near the river were inoperational, and the Louvre and Musée d'Orsay shut their doors to safeguard their precious basement collections.
All this didn't really hit home, however, until I took a Sunday stroll to the Seine. The riverside highway and pedestrianised river banks were completely submerged, with road signs and trees poking bizarrely out of the water. Some statues adorning bridge structures had their feet covered, others had water flowing past their waists. The volume and speed of the river were awe-inspiring, and made me truly realise that if the water broke the banks all hell would break loose.
The water levels are now subsiding, but the sun is still not emerging. The cold, grey weather is weighing on what is already a sombre mood. Paris needs a little sunshine, and a few French victories in the Euro 2016, to brighten the collective spirit of the city.