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The Merry Month of May

The Merry month of May.

It’s riddled with French holidays: May 1st (Labor day, “Fête du premier mai”), May 8th (World War II Victory day, “Fête de la Victoire 1945”), May 11th (Pentecost, “Pentecôte”), and May 12th (Whit Monday, “Lundi de Pentecôte”).

We lost one holiday in May this year thanks to Ascension Thursday, a religious holiday which falls on the Thursday following Easter Sunday by 40 days, so this year it fell on May 1st (Labor Day). No problem, the French make up for the lost free time by creating even more out of the days in between the holiday and the weekend. It’s called “faire le pont” — “bridging” from the holiday over the weekend to create as many days together at one time as possible.

During the rest of the year, we can look forward to some of the same holidays Americans celebrate, such as January 1st, New Year’s Day (“Jour de l’an”) and December 25th, Christmas Day (“Noël”) and many we don’t, such as July 14th, Bastille Day (“Fête nationale”), August 15th, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (“Assomption”), November 1st, All Saints Day (“Toussaint”), November 11th, Armistice Day (“Jour d’armistice”) and December 26th, the 2nd Day of Christmas (only in the regions of Alsace and Lorraine).

Of all these vacation days, only Labor Day is a public holiday by law. The rest of the holidays are granted by an agreement between employers and employees’ unions or by agreement of the employer. Therefore, be prepared for stores, banks and museums to shut their doors for days at a time. When you plan your travels to France, make note of the holidays, lest you will spend your precious moments twiddling your thumbs on a park bench (even that’s not all so bad, “n’est-ce pas!”).

In addition to public holidays, French school holidays happen four times a year, so parents are virtually obligated to take vacation with their c

hildren — but no problem, they have, by law, a minimum of 25 vacation days per year, not including the national holidays! And don’t forget, the 35-hour work week came into affect as long ago as 2000. If you work overtime, you receive a higher compensation.

Most French take their summer vacations in July and/or August and simply shut down their businesses! This never ceases to amaze me how a small family-run business can just lock up and head to the beach for a month. Berthillon, the famous manufacturer and retailer of luxury ice cream, shuts their doors at least the last two weeks of August — which for an ice cream vendor would be their peak season, no? Go figure!

I never know what to do with all of France’s holidays. This attitude of ‘work to live’ somehow never rubbed off on my American work ethic of ‘live to work’ and inevitably end up working away while French friends are off to some exotic places.

But, we Americans attach so much of our ego selves to our careers. I can’t speak for Canada, but in the U.S., our class levels are determined by our income and therefore, our professional careers are of utmost importance. In France, their class levels are determined by their level of education (!), which of course, ultimately leads to better employment positions, but really has nothing to do with income. And, since earning more income doesn’t really buy you a much higher quality of life (thanks to socialized health, free high quality education and a well-tended public environment), then why should anyone work so much harder than their compatriots if they aren’t going to achieve that much more?

Hence the myriad of holidays, vacations and free time. With a colleague sitting in the bright sun facing the Centre Georges Pompidou at the Café Beaubourg, drinking an Orangina and watching the sea of many human fishes strolling by, playing musical instruments or begging for coins, we laughed over the fact that his “Expert Comptable” (CPA) was on vacation the last week before tax returns were due! Know any accountants Stateside who would dream of such a thing?

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris

P.S. We’re in the planning stages of our next three Living and Investing in France Real Estate Conferences:

June 22, 2008
San Francisco
July 26-27, 2008
October 11-12, 2008

Watch for an announcement soon, or to learn more, reserve your place or ask questions, visit /frenchproperty/conference


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