Eleanor Beardsley

When President Emmanuel Macron set out to overhaul France's notoriously rigid labor laws last fall, unions promised crippling strikes to stop him.

All of France, it seemed, was waiting for the showdown.

After all, the country's powerful unions have stopped French leaders from overhauling their cherished work code for decades. In 2016, a succession of strikes and 14 nationwide protests snuffed out President François Hollande's hopes for simplifying the 3,000-page employment code.

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The city of Paris does not exactly have a business-friendly reputation. Strikes, red tape and a rigid labor market have seen to that. But things are changing. France now has a young, pro-business president. And across the city there's a growing climate of capitalist optimism.

A renovated 1920s train station in the middle of Paris is now a modern hub for startups. Newly elected President Emmanuel Macron inaugurated Station F last June, but the hub was actually conceived before he was elected.

The fallout from the Harvey Weinstein scandal has been felt far and wide. As women continue to speak out against sexual aggression, the #MeToo movement has ended a few careers. Many people in France now wonder if it could also topple a longstanding social custom — the two-cheek kiss known as la bise.

In December, the female mayor of Morette, a small town in western France, fired off an email to 73 municipal counselors, telling them, "From now on, I would prefer to shake hands, like men do."

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Some people in France say it's time to set a minimum age for sexual consent. France has no minimum. And court cases involving older men preying on minors have prompted a demand for a clear legal framework. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports.

In France today, nothing else matters. Johnny Hallyday is dead.

The French rock star, who died at 74 of lung cancer at his home outside Paris Wednesday, had a career spanning 57 years. He sold more than 100 million albums, but was little known outside his own country. USA Today once called him "the greatest rock star you never heard of."

Retrospectives and tributes have poured in, and France's Prime Minister Edouard Philippe paid tribute to Hallyday in Parliament.

A park guard blows his whistle to warn the gates will soon close at Parc Andre Citroen, which lies along the Seine River in the west of Paris. But before the park shuts for the night, a handful of people, including artist Florian Roblain, are gathered around the water fountain filling their containers.

"I'm filling up my bottles with sparkling water," says Roblain. "Sometimes people have 10 bottles. It's ecological and of course, cheap. When you come twice a week, if you've got children, you become used to it. It's a rhythm; it's part of your life."

In the early morning hours inside a cozy Paris boulangerie, big batter-mixing machines are kneading dough for the flaky breakfast pastry that has become a symbol of good French eating. Baker Frederic Pichard says it's no secret how to make a good croissant.

"It takes savoir-faire and of course milk, sugar, eggs and flour," says Pichard. "But the key ingredient is butter. Out of the eight kilograms of dough here, three kilos are butter. More than a third of croissants are made of butter."

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