European workers, to different degrees, are back on the barricades trying to stem the flood of budget cuts that seem inevitable. According to most economists, at least the Keynesian ones, England is about to be plunged in the darkest economic tunnel, with the deepest cuts ever to be faced by a country at any given time. No matter where you sit, unless you inhabit the upper echelons of the mega rich, you are probably suffering.

If you are European, there are some benefits one has come to take for granted – extended maternity leave, generous pensions, free (good) health care, excellent transport systems and long vacations amongst the most basic ones. God knows I do miss the long vacations everyone takes with no compunction and which, compounded with the office closures at Christmas, Easter and assorted saints’ days and religious holidays most people would be hard pressed to remember the meaning of, make working life a lot more pleasant than in the US.

French students are ditching school, marching in support of unions’ workers, rallying against the pension’s age being raised and every time I open a newspaper I expect to see French mothers taking to the streets too. Benefits accorded to French women who choose to have babies are probably the best in the world – French women are actually encouraged to have lots of children by being afforded extensive leave, free childcare and huge tax cuts meaning that your fourth child will essentially pay for himself. And in an  exquisitely French twist, after giving birth, the government will pay for a mother and her vagina to get back in shape. I am not kidding. It is apparently the duty of a French woman to always look her best and, apparently, also be in tip-top shape when it comes to the boudoir. The same way birthing classes are offered before popping the baby, lessons on how to get your vagina’s elasticity back, lest the husband complain, are available. For free.

It must be hard to be a French woman and live up to all the expectations the male world has of you. Despite having the highest birth rate in Europe, France does not fare very well when it comes to compensate women on a par with their male counterparts or in the percentage of women at the top, whether it be politics or management. But, on the other hand, I am looking at the photo in the NY Times of a in Parisian doctor, four children in tow, at 8 in the morning, taking them to school perched on high pumps and looking trim and glamorous before starting her shift at the hospital.

I am not entirely sure how I feel on the matter. Given the high taxes most Europeans pay, expecting and receiving certain services and benefits should be a given. Is having the state encouraging women to regain their figures after a pregnancy an objectification or a welcome perk? Looking at it with my American mind I see a meddling taken too far – as a European used to be taken care of when something goes wrong or in times of need, I find it rather flattering. At the end of the day, it shows where national priorities lie and why obesity is less of a problem in the land of cream and butter.

What the exercises are, in cases you are wondering, the French are keeping it a secret.



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