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An American Expat on Vacation? Really?

By the time you read this I’ll be on the road to Nice via the Autoroute in a rental car. Like the rest of the French world, I will be on vacation and you won’t hear from me until August 17th — although I’m only officially taking one week when the rest of the French world takes three, four or five.

Vacation is sacred in France. Everywhere I go, someone asks, “When are you leaving on vacation?”

If I weren’t leaving on vacation it would feel pretty stupid, almost down right embarrassing — as if I couldn’t afford it or had other obligations other than taking care of little ol’ me.

They definitely take care of little ol’ themselves, plus so do their employers, who by law must give their employees five weeks paid vacation (30 days with Saturdays, but not Sundays counted as holidays) plus up to 22 days of “Reduction of Working Time” (RTT — Réduction du Temps de Travail) for the employees that choose to work more than 35 hours per week (the “limit” is 39 per week).

If you work more than 39 hours, then the compensation is normally money, not bonus days, but bonus days off are given to people who take a part of their annual leave outside of the summer period (three days of work grants one bonus day off, six days grant two bonus days off, and so on). With a little engineering, should you combine all these rules, you might rack up to 9.5 paid vacation weeks (5 weeks of vacation + 4 weeks of RTT + 0.5 week of bonus days off). Not bad.

In addition, this doesn’t take into consideration that there are 11 public holidays! I swear this is true and guess who pays for it?

You guessed right: the employers. Social security costs an employer 83% of an employee’s salary. so, what would you rather be? An employee or an employer? Let me guess your answer? Employee, right? And now you know one of the reasons entrepreneurship has virtually no place in France!

By comparison, the U.S. has no statutory minimum. It is totally left up to the employers to offer paid vacation days as part of the compensation and benefits package. Almost all employers offer at least some paid vacation to their employees — full-time employees can earn between six and 20 vacation days and give their employees paid time off during public holidays — typically six per year. Some employers offer no vacations at all — but that’s the exception, not the rule. Still, the average number of paid vacation days offered by private employers is 10 days after one year of service, 14 days after five years, 17 days after 10 years, and 19 days after 20 years.

Can you imagine? Americans have to work 20 years before they can take off a total of 19 days while a French employee can take 66.5 days their first year of employment!

What’s wrong with this picture? Sure, now you’re thinking you’re going to run to France and get a job…quick! Then, you won’t have to actually work, you’ll get full health benefits and you can’t get fired. Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? But guess again.

The unemployment rate in France is 10.5% compared to 5.3% Stateside, so you’re not getting a job so fast! And guess what? The average monthly wage (net wage for a single person with no children) in France is 2,223.89€ compared to the U.S. with 2,360.88€.

So, now you’re thinking we’re simply down right stupid that we’re working so hard and earning so little! At least more of us are earning something, though! and you know the old saying: “50% of something is better than 100% of nothing.”

Meanwhile, new business start-ups in France for 2014 had a rate of 3.69% compared to the U.S. with 9.67%. I guess that’s because the French are on vacation while Americans are working their buns off. According to Liz Alderman of the New York Times, “From 80 to 90 percent of all start-ups fail,” but according to the U.S. Census Bureau, France has a 49.5% 5-year failure rate while the U.S. has a 50% 4-year failure rate. (Keep in mind that “business failure” has different definitions for different countries.)


The funny thing is, too, that even with all this vacation time we have here in France, Americans living in France still work harder and take less time, even if entitled to it. It must be the guilt. We just think we’re supposed to be working…all the time.

I take my computer almost everywhere I go, so as not to lose a single moment of available work time. At the cafés I frequent, the waiters often accuse me of being a workaholic…as if that’s a ‘bad’ thing!…when I see it as simply being industrious and efficient. Why hang out getting nothing accomplished when one can hang out and get something accomplished?

Even real vacations are tough to take. The one coming up is the one week a year you readers won’t hear from me — and that’s the only week I’ll take all year long.

Oy. I will never be French.

Note: I will be on REAL vacation August 8 through 15 and that week, there will be no Parler Paris or Parler Nice Nouvellettres® nor French Property Insider! Hard to believe, huh?

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris

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P.S. Making last minute plans for a visit to Paris? Did you know you can rent a Parler Paris Apartments/Paris Sharing apartment for only 3 nights? If you’re booking less than 30 days in advance, we will wave the 4 night minimum stay! There is still availability at some of our most popular apartments. Book your Parisian apartment today


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