Protesters in yellow vests disrupt life in France, but their demands are unclear

France is erupting in protests over fuel taxes

Lesson #
December 13, 2018

A spontaneous protest movement has broken out in France, disrupting daily traffic and shaking the government's plans for additional fuel taxes. A group of citizens wearing reflective safety vests protested a planned rise in the fuel tax, but the movement has gathered steam and now represents anyone dissatisfied with the president, Emmanuel Macron, or with capitalism in general. Plus, learn what it means to have your finger on the pulse of something.


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Transcript

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France is erupting in protests over fuel taxes

They came out wearing reflective safety vests, blocking traffic, and demanding that Emanuel Macron…well, we’re not sure what they’re demanding he do, exactly. But the yellow vests, as they’re called, are not shy about expressing their dissatisfaction with the direction of their country, and about two-thirds of the French people support them.

Hi everyone, welcome to Plain English once again, I’m Jeff and JR is the producer. If you’d like to get in touch with us, send us a note. We can be reached at [email protected] or [email protected]. Today’s episode is number 111, so the transcript can be found at PlainEnglish.com/111.

Are you getting your Christmas shopping done? It’s already mid-December. I’m starting to browse online. I think I have a couple of ideas for the people on my shopping list. What happens to me is, I have these great Christmas gift ideas in, like, June. And then the time comes to actually do my shopping and I draw a blank. I don’t know what to get. There are plenty of presents I could give myself, but that’s another story.

To get a great Christmas present, you need to have your finger on the pulse of everyone on your shopping list. And if you don’t know what that means, just keep listening. That’s because the phrase we’re going to talk about in the second half of the program is, to have your finger on the pulse of something. So listen for that in the main content of the program. Ready to get started?


Yellow vest protests expand in France

A spontaneous protest movement has broken out in France. They’re called the yellow vests, after the reflective safety vests you wear when working in traffic. They originally came out to protest new fuel taxes, but the movement has expanded to encompass all manner of dissatisfaction with France’s government and especially its president Emmanuel Macron.

It started back on November 17, when hundreds of thousands of people came out to block traffic in more than 2,000 locations around France. The people were mostly from rural areas and were mostly middle-class. They were protesting the French government’s increase in the fuel tax by 7.6 euro cents per liter for diesel fuel and 3.9 cents per liter for unleaded gas. The majority of the price of fuel in France is taxes. Though that tax has been in place for a while, an additional tax was scheduled to come into force in January.

The latest increase was a tipping point for middle-class France, especially those who can’t take the metro, ride bicycles, or use ridesharing apps. Their view is that new fuel taxes, which are part of the president’s environmental agenda, are a luxury that city people can afford, but that the middle class in the France’s rural areas cannot. A video posted to Facebook by a singer from Brittany summarizes this view. The singer, Jacline Moraud, says that Macron doesn’t care about the costs that commuters outside the city face, since he and his ministers get to work in government-funded cars. She said, “I have no choice but to take my car, whether it pollutes or not.” Her four-minute video attracted millions of views.

Macron is the picture of French elite. He went to the finest schools and started his career as an investment banker. He started his own political party and bucked the world trend toward nationalism and extreme parties by campaigning as a centrist—and winning big. Since taking office in a burst of energy and youthful exuberance, he passed a series of labor market, educational, and budget reforms intended to make France more economically competitive and flexible in the modern world. He has also shined on the world stage, taking a leadership role in the European Union, at the United Nations, and in promoting the international Paris Climate Accord. He delivered a speech marking the one hundredth anniversary of the end of World War I by criticizing Donald Trump, as the American president sat in the audience. This globetrotting has won him praise from international leaders and from many in Paris, but it quickly became apparent that the internationalist president did not have his finger on the pulse of his own country. He scolded a teenager for not addressing him with the proper respect. When an elderly citizen said that the government was “crushing people” by planning to increase fuel taxes further, the French president instead lectured the man on the need to change, rather than listening to his concerns. He has been branded as “the president for the rich.”

Just days after Macron’s public rebuke to Trump, the protests broke out in the French countryside. To make matters worse, Macron flew to Buenos Aires for an international conference on the weekend of the biggest protests, leaving his prime minister to deal with the crisis back home. At first, the government’s position was that it would not back down on its plan to raise fuel taxes further in January. But they soon abandoned that position, saying they’d delay the increased fuel taxes by six months, and potentially delay it further if global oil prices get too high. Days later, they canceled the tax outright. At best, the reversal made the government look weak and indecisive; at worst, it could encourage more protests if people think the president can be pushed around by a mob on the street.

The protests, meanwhile, have expanded from the countryside to the city. And they have taken on an ugly form. Paris’s Arc de Triomphe was vandalized; protesters wrote, “Macron resignation” in black spray paint. Last weekend, a dark combination of tear gas and smoke hung over France’s beautiful Champs-Elysée. The city’s main shopping corridor was littered with burned cars and broken glass from smashed windows. A stuffed figure of Macron was strapped into a makeshift guillotine. The government closed the Eiffel Tower and other tourist sites as a precaution.

The yellow vest protests have expanded far beyond simple unhappiness with a new tax. The message of the protesters appears incoherent, mostly because they have no real leader. Many are against the fuel taxes. Others demand the resignation of the president. Some are vehemently anti-capitalist. But all of them seem to agree that Macron is the president of the rich. Anywhere between two-thirds and three-quarters of the French people support the yellow vest protesters—probably because they support the idea that Macron has lost touch with the French people. Since the yellow vests are leaderless and don’t have a specific agenda, people support them as a way of opposing the president. As one protester put it, French society is like a pyramid. Macron is sitting at the top, and they want him to know what it’s like to be at the bottom.


I certainly understand the sentiments of the protesters, watching their own costs rise as their president lectures them about the environment. And I understand that a good street riot is part of the French tradition. But, boy, that’s a sad sight to see fires burning and tear gas all over the Champs-Elysée.

As we get close to Christmastime, some of you may have travel planned. If you’re in Mexico, that might involve a long bus ride. For some of you, it might mean flights or train trips, or even long car trips. One great way to pass the time is by listening to an audiobook. And you can listen in English, if you’re brave, or in your own language. There are audiobooks in Spanish, Portuguese, German, Italian, all the great languages of the world. French! If you need to put on your headphones and block out the sound of the protesters outside your window, what better way to do it than with an audiobook? The Harry Potter books are available in French. And even one of JR’s favorite books, The Little Prince, is available in French, as it was originally written. I’m sure that one’s in all the languages. And listen, you’ve probably heard me say you can get a free audiobook by going to PlainEnglish.com/book and signing up for a free trial membership. That’s still true like always. But there’s a great holiday offer going on now. When you go to PlainEnglish.com/book , you will see an offer for three months of Audible for about $7 per month. So you can sign up, get a free audiobook for being a trial member, which you can keep forever without paying anything. Then you can be a member for three months and get one audiobook a month. And after three months, you’ll have gotten four books and paid only $21. That’s a great value. These audiobooks are like eight, ten, twelve hours each. That’s enough for you to take the train from Paris to Marseille and back, or to drive from one side of Sao Paolo to the other. PlainEnglish.com/book , even if you don’t want to subscribe at the discount rate, you can still get a free trial, pay nothing, and keep one audiobook forever. PlainEnglish.com/book.

¿Hablas español?

The transcript of this lesson is available with interactive translations into Spanish. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation.

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你说中国话?

The transcript of this lesson is available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

Parlez-vous français?

The transcript of this lesson is available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

Can I see a sample?

Yes, please visit PlainEnglish.com/sample to see a sample episode with the Spanish translations.

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

Você fala português?

The transcript of this lesson is available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

Can I see a sample?

Yes, please visit PlainEnglish.com/sample to see a sample episode with the Spanish translations.

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

日本語は話せますか?

The transcript of this lesson is available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

Can I see a sample?

Yes, please visit PlainEnglish.com/sample to see a sample episode with the Spanish translations.

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

Parli italiano?

The transcript of this lesson is available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

Can I see a sample?

Yes, please visit PlainEnglish.com/sample to see a sample episode with the Spanish translations.

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

Sprechen Sie Deutsch?

The transcript of this lesson is available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

Can I see a sample?

Yes, please visit PlainEnglish.com/sample to see a sample episode with the Spanish translations.

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

Sen Türkçe konuşmayı biliyor musun?

The transcripts of Plain English lessons are available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation. Turkish translations are available starting at Lesson 278.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

Can I see a sample?

Yes, please visit PlainEnglish.com/sample to see a sample episode with the Spanish translations.

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

Mówisz po polsku?

The transcript of Plain English lessons are available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation. Polish translations are available starting at Lesson 278.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

Can I see a sample?

Yes, please visit PlainEnglish.com/sample to see a sample episode with the Spanish translations.

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

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