Time Off to Enjoy Life: “Faire le Pont”
Ask an American in Paris what he’s doing on Labor Day (tomorrow, May 1st) and they will likely say, “working.”
Every year I organize a picnic on May 1st for just that reason — because if I don’t take the break, I’d end up working, too, just like the rest of us poor American workaholic slobs.
If we were in the U.S., I don’t think we would be working on Labor Day — that’s because it’s such a sacred day and there are so few legal work-free ‘bank’ holidays in the U.S….unlike France. And in France, when a holiday falls on a Tuesday or Thursday, the day between the weekend and the holiday gets tacked on to “faire le pont” — or ‘make the bridge,’ so that a long weekend is possible.
In the month of May, there are four holidays: May 1 — Labor Day or May Day, May 8 — WWII Victory Day, May 25 — Mother’s Day and May 29 — Ascension Day. Three of them fall on a Thursday and that means you might as well give up getting anything accomplished the entire month as everyone will have closed their offices and head out of town for one or more of the long weekends.
When my daughter was in high school here, she came home with an assignment to memorize the holidays in France. At the time, it was shocking! I questioned, “Why don’t they just teach you how to read a calendar!?” Of course, that was the American in me thinking that being resourceful was more important than carrying all that knowledge in one’s head. The French have a different idea of intelligence.
In total, there are 19 holidays this year in which one can do nothing. These include religious holidays that are observed because this is an overwhelmingly Catholic country — almost half of the country is Roman Catholic, largely non-practicing. If you’re not Catholic and have your own set of holidays, then you’ve got even more days off!
This year, this is what you can expect:
|Wednesday Jan 1||New Year’s Day||National holiday|
|Friday Apr 18||Good Friday||Local holiday|
|Sunday Apr 20||Easter Day||Observance|
|Monday Apr 21||Easter Monday||National holiday|
|Thursday May 1||Labor/May Day||National holiday|
|Thursday May 8||WWII Victory Day||National holiday|
|Sunday May 25||Mother’s Day||Observance|
|Thursday May 29||Ascension Day||National holiday|
|Sunday Jun 8||Whit Sunday||Observance|
|Monday Jun 9||Whit Monday||National holiday|
|Sunday Jun 15||Father’s Day||Observance|
|Monday Jul 14||Bastille Day||National holiday|
|Friday Aug 15||Assumption of Mary||National holiday|
|Saturday Nov 1||All Saints’ Day||National holiday|
|Tuesday Nov 11||Armistice Day||National holiday|
|Wednesday Dec 24||Christmas Eve||Observance|
|Wednesday Dec 25||Christmas Day||National holiday|
|Friday Dec 26||St. Stephen’s Day||Local holiday|
|Wednesday Dec 31||New Year’s Eve||Observance|
Of course, holidays are in addition to the required paid vacation days an employer must provide an employee: five weeks or 31 days. For those who choose to work more than 35 hours a week (39 hours is the limit), they don’t get extra vacation days, but get extra pay. Bonus vacation days can be taken if they take their annual vacation outside of the summer vacation period — so for example, three days taken not in the summer grants an extra bonus day off and six days grants two bonus days off. When you combine all the benefits, some employees could end up with as much as nine-and-a-half weeks of paid vacation plus the national holidays and the bridge days and of course, Labor Day, which is mandatory!
But don’t read this to think that France is not productive. “Au contraire!” According to an article in USA Today, an hour of a French person’s work day is valued at $57.70 compared to $60.20 in the U.S. So, just because we Americans work more, doesn’t mean we’re working smarter.
In another article recently published by the BBC, “Busting the myth of France’s 35-hour workweek,” Germans work the least number of hours and Singaporeans work the most, with the U.S. just under the average of 1,734 hours per year with 1,704 hours and France third lowest with 1,476 hours per year.
So, who’s really got it figured out?
While we’re working during holidays because of our American work ethic — which is such that we feel guilty doing otherwise, or have attached our egos to our professions (who we are is what we do) and our industriousness is our personal and national pride, the French are enjoying their families and their lives more. Not only do they not have any guilt associated with taking off such sweet time to relax or travel, they see it as their right and privilege as part of their lives.
Isn’t that one of the many reasons that so many Americans want to take part in the ‘good life’ in France? Yes. And that’s why I intend to picnic on Labor Day instead of work all day like my compatriots.
Happy Labor Day.
A la prochaine…
Director of The Adrian Leeds Group, LLC
(Labor Day picnicing)
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