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Back to Work or Laying Back?

Call it 09-01-08 or 01-09-08. Either way you write the date, in France it’s the first day Back to School and that means the official beginning of “La Rentrée.” In the U.S. and Canada, it’s Labor day, an annual holiday designed to honor the achievements of workers…by not working.

In France, it may be the heaviest work day of the year, when the French try to make up a summer’s worth of worklessness the very first day back. It’s always a scramble.

The kids come home from school with a long list of necessary tools for their new year in class that the parents must fulfill by tomorrow’s class so this afternoon the school supply “rayon” (department) in “Monoprix” will be wall-to-wall with customers. In 1994 when we experienced this ourselves with our then 8-year-old, and a list of things in French we didn’t comprehend at all, we found a neighborhood “papeterie” (stationery shop) who was willing to stock the basket for us to the tune of about $200. We were shocked! And you see, it was memorable.

At the offices, returning workers will find a month’s worth of mail and email, not to mention lots of calls to return and appointments to make they had put off until now. Everyone will want to catch up fully by this afternoon so life can go on. Let’s see how fast they can work their way through the piles.

A one month vacation and the insanity during “La Rentrée” has never made much sense to me, but what do I know? I’m a non-stop-working American with a strong entrepreneurial spirit — a product of the society in which I was raised. In Barack Obama’s historic acceptance speech this past August 28th, he used the “w” word (“work”) 35 times. In Nicolas Sarkozy’s victory speech on May 6, 2007, he used the “w” word twice. What does that tell you?

In North America, you would think today would be sacred, when everyone feels totally entitled to take the day off, but they don’t. A poll taken by Kronos, a workforce management company, reported September 1st in 2004, showed that one-third of Americans planned to spend the holiday weekend at work, and another 12% of the respondents said they may have to be on the job, as well. “According to the Kronos survey, 35% of Americans usually work during the weekends, with most of them (95%) working at least two weekends each month.” And furthermore, two-thirds of them hadn’t allotted time for vacation at all.

Are we nuts?

Meanwhile, 90% of New Orleanians and other Louisianans have evacuated (by order of the Governor) to points north of the hurri

cane (“Gustav”) threatened Gulf Coast, turning their Labor Day into a “déja vu” — a potential repeat performance of Hurricane Katrina three years ago. They are definitely “taking the day off” while trying to take their minds off what might happen should ‘lightning’ strike twice. The rest aren’t leaving their homes and the officials are threatening to send them Angola Prison if they are caught looting or even stepping out of their doorstep during curfew hours! A little drastic, no?

Parisians are back from vacation tan as toast and exposing as much of their new found freckles as they can afford to show off. They might as well have neon signs on their foreheads that read, “I went to the beach this summer, ha, ha, ha,” hoping to make us envious of all that rest and relaxation and fun in the sun. It works (there goes that word, again). It’s been a cool and often cloudy August in the City of No-Sun-Light (I lovingly refer to often as “Gray Paree”). Weather is not a reason to live here, that’s for sure, so no wonder they run to the shores.

The transition from summer vacation to “La Rentrée” seemed like overnight…but it really took this past week for residents to make their way back to the city in dribs and drabs. The Saturday night bus at 1 a.m. heading across the river from the Left Bank was standing room only. A week earlier, you could have shot a cannon down rue de Rivoli and it wouldn’t have been heard, much less felt. The movie theater was sold out and the queue to enter the Annie Liebovitz exhibit was down the block. My little street is bustling with noise this morning, while for the past few weeks I’ve heard barely a whisper.

Yep. They’re back, big time.

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris

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P.S. Mark your calendars for Parler Paris Après Midi La Rentrée gathering September 9th, the Film Producing Workshop
by Judith Merians September 13th and the Parler Parlor
Rentrée Party Picnic September 20th.

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