Sorry, no one home. Come back in June.

If you’ve booked your vacation in France in these coming weeks, be prepared. France isn’t there in May. Well, the better part of May at least. We’re not even talking here about the days taken up with the nation’s current and seemingly endless series of strikes and worker demonstrations. The biggest ones are scheduled this year for May 1, May 13 and quite possibly there’ll be another in late May as well… Over a 40 day period in May and early June, it’s estimated that the French will be spending roughly half of it soaking up days off the job. Business often suffers. Work managers have a hard time juggling staffing schedules when everyone is headed out the door and merchants who aren’t involved in serving those who have struck out for the beaches, the countryside or other tourist sites often just tighten their belts and plan on watching their business fall off from 30 to 40 percent because no one is around. But it’s all taken in stride because it’s just run of the mill French May holiday–and social strife–madness. Because the year calendar lends itself particularly well to the exercise, French time-off seekers can parlay the first of May through the first of June period into a total of 18 days off the job for only 14 days at work. It simply requires careful and crafty stringing together of official and unofficial holidays, weekends, days on strike, time-off granted as compensation for hours put in over the nation’s relatively new 35-hour work-week requirements plus no less than four “pont” or “bridge” periods… That’s when a holiday–or a nationwide strike day–falls on a Tuesday or Thursday and almost everyone just takes the intervening Monday or Friday as well to have four straight days away from the factory or office… As is well known, the French can be very careful and very crafty about this type of thing. First there is the national May Day worker’s holiday when it is not only habitual but rigidly required by law to close down virtually everything that doesn’t have a more or less life- or tourist-support function such as restaurants, hotels, transport, hospitals etc. Your every day commercial enterprise that doesn’t fall into that kind of category is headed for big penalty payments if it tries to stay open on May Day. But, because May 1 is a Thursday this year and, to boot, the date of a scheduled massive nationwide protest against government attempts to reform the nation’s state-run retirement system, it’s just assumed that most workers will take that Friday off as well. Technically that Friday is not an official holiday and the schools, for instance are open. But attendance levels will be much lower than usual because mommy and daddy and the kids will be enjoying an extra day’s leisure at the beach, or their weekend hideaway in the country or at grandmother’s house. The same scenario will prevail for May 8, the official celebration of the end of World War II in Europe. Because that falls on a Thursday as well, it also will provide a not too workaday situation on Friday, May 9 because it opens the door to another four-day weekend… Four days will be understating it for many. There’s the nationwide strike–protesting retirement system reforms again–scheduled for Tuesday May 13. That will give a lot of people an excuse to make their four-day pont a six-day one by taking Monday May 12 off as well. Shortly after everyone eventually gets back on the job, along will come Ascension Thursday on May 29. That’s an official holiday that much of France will stretch across Friday May 30 and into another four day weekend. Then, after a brief working respite just to remember what it’s like, the country will relax again for the June 8 and 9 celebrations of Pentecost Sunday and Pentecost Monday, both official holidays often preceded by another mass departure from the workplace on the preceding Friday… The French are used to and geared for this kind of a May and early June… It isn’t always quite as prone to time-off as it is this year although in 2001, when May 1 and May 8 fell on a Tuesday, it was possible, with some clever planning to get 16 days off for only 14 on the job. If this will be your first May experience in France, however, ensure that the places you had planned to visit will be open, figure in a lot of travel jams at the start and end of those time-off periods and then crank in your own relaxation time. Why should you be different than the French?
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