When May Cometh, Do what Thee Liketh

Another public holiday (hooray). The French get no less than four publicholidays in May

May 1st – May Day or what the French call the « Fête du Travail » I think The French name has a kind of ironic twist when you translate it word for word. Fête du Travail – a Celebration of work. Theoretically we should spend this day working, but we don’t, we all get a day off and celebrate not working.

May 8th – anniversary of the Victory over Nazi Germany

Ascension Day – a Religious festival – celebrating Christ’s ascension into heaven.

Whit Monday – When Jesus zapped his disciples with a bit of holy spirit.

French get the Public holiday on the day it falls, meaning that if May 1st and May 8th fall on a Saturday or a Sunday, you lose two days. Son than heavens (literally ) the Ascension Day always falls on a Thursday and Whit Monday – well it always falls on a Monday

In the UK or the USA, the idea of four public holidays all falling in quick succession would have most employers tearing their hair out. There would be armies of bosses, economists and members of Parliament on the TV sounding off about « too many public holidays » Not in France.

This may May has been exceptional though, thanks to a calendar quirk, the 1st and 8th of May fell on Fridays – long weekends for everybody. As for Ascension – well after the Thursday  most people take their Friday as well, using a day of their annual leave as a « pont » or bridging day to take them up to the weekend. There are even some schools who have chosen to close tomorrow – well if they didn’t close, parents would just take their kids out of school anyway and head off on a long weekend.

Now, May is also the time by which workers have to use up their annual leave. In the majority of companies, annual leave goes from May to May, so, if you have a couple of days left to take – do it in May. Tag those days on to a public holiday as bridging days and … Well, I won’t say that France is closed for business in May, but there are plenty of people actually not at work, and so not much serious work gets done.

There is a saying in French « au mois de mai fait ce qu’il te plaît » – meaning in May, do what you like. This is exactly what many French people are doing. (Of course, were I to be more poetic in my translation, I would say « When the month of May is cometh, do what thee darn well liketh. »)

So, my workplace is officially closed on Friday, today was a public holiday, I took three days of leave and I’ve had a full week off work. I don’t know many other countries where you could do this.

On my travels around town this week, I have noticed the sheer number of people who have also done the same.

As in any other country, those who do not work on public holidays spend their time shopping. Unlike a few years back when a Public Holiday in France meant a national close down and frankly felt like a day of national mourning rather than a holiday – now, many, if not all of the national chain stores are open for business on Public Holidays.

It used to be that the French would spend their public holidays eating. I love one website where I read that « French people spend Ascension day quietly with family and friends, they may go for a walk in the country or a picnic » RUBBISH – everyone is down the DIY store buying paint, wallpaper, Tools, whatever – all the stuff they need to spend a weekend screwing, banging and getting pasted or plastered. Yes folks, May is the time of year from home improvement and renovation projects. On a trip to our local DIY megastore earlier in the week, the punters were standing 10 deep in the aisles fighting each other for paint and bathroom fittings. Not a space to be had on the car park.

As for picnics – you know, I’ve never been on a French picnic – down the supermarket this morning customers were laden down with meat and wine – well we’ve had two days of decent weather, so looks like the right time to drag the BBQ out from the back of the garage, fire it up, uncork a few bottles of rosé and then cook your meat to cinders on the Barbie – oh dear around three o’clock, the heavens opened and the rain hasn’t stopped – a heaven sent message from our good Lord that we should dwell just a little more on the true religious meaning of the day ????

For those with a penchant for things theological or liturgical, Ascension day this is in fact the 40th Day of Easter – is that only 39 days ago that we were stuffing ousrelves stupid on chocolate – seems like an eternity.

Here I am banging on about public holidays and I am just wondering, do the French get more than anyone else. Yes, there are those on the UK side of the Channel who would have us believe that the French are always on holiday. So we get (in order

January 1st

Easter Monday (No Good Friday in France)

May 1st (on the day it falls)

May 8th (also on the day it falls)

Ascension Day

Whit Monday

July 14th – Bastille Day (no one really cares because it is during the summer holidays)

August 15th – Assumption day (also in the summer holidays)

November 1st – All Sants Day (also taken on the day it falls)

Christmas day.

That is 10 days a year. Not many, plus, if the public holiday falls on a Saturday or Sunday, you are pretty much screwed and can lose up to 6 days holiday. This isn’t like Britain where you get an extra Bank Holiday Monday tagged on if the public holiday falls on a weekend. I suppose what irks employer sis that the majority of public holidays come in May.