And Then There’s the Month of May

Written by admin on April 25, 2009 – 12:13 pm -

Anyone who lives in France is the first to admit the month of May is pretty much a non-month.  Let me rephrase that. Even though it has 31 days, many of them (and I am not including weekends) are vacation days and not a whole lot of work gets done. The French are used to it. But it’s unnerving for business people coming to France and finding that the decision makers aren’t around. 
This year, the calendar isn’t cooperating with people who want to take mini-breaks and deduct a minimal number of days from their guaranteed five weeks of vacation.  Pity, because the French will take mini-vacations wherever and whenever they can.     

This year, May 1 (Labor Day) falls on a Friday. The second May holiday, Armistice Day, is Friday, May 8th.  Naturally, this isn’t ideal, but these are moveable feasts and the days they fall on change every year. Some years are simply better than others. It’s the luck of the draw.

The next holiday, Ascension, falls on a Thursday. Who wouldn’t take that Friday off since the majority of their colleagues would have built the pont (bridge) and made it a four-day weekend?  They wouldn’t be able to accomplish any business even if they were sitting behind their desks. If you do the calculations right, people can get away for five days and only need to declare Friday as vacation day.

That sounds pretty good to Americans who generally start with ten days of vacation (two working weeks) and work their way up to somewhat longer periods after being with a company for so many years and gaining seniority.

The last May holiday is Pentecost which is celebrated on May 31st—alas, always a Sunday. But don’t despair; Whit Monday, June 1 is a holiday so all isn’t lost. But if we assume that this holiday is really an extension of May (May 32?), then things look glum because there are no holidays in June, the next being Bastille Day, July 14.

The majority of them aren’t glamorous or necessarily expensive. Frequently, they go and visit parents or other members of the family. May is one of the most pleasant months of the year. People take advantage of it and take to the rails or the roads. Be certain to reserve train tickets as soon as possible and don’t be surprised if you encounter more traffic than normal on the autoroute.  

One of the reasons the French have started staggering winter and spring break school  vacations according to specific areas of the country is because it’s better for families as well as tourist destinations. But May is May and so are July, August and Christmas and New Year’s holidays — so you can expect everything moving as slow as a snail.  

May 1 is a date that will be indelibly etched in my heart and in my mind. This year it marks the 21st anniversary of my move to Paris. I’ll never forget landing at Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) to start my husband’s six-month-long consulting assignment. I hated the idea of being a “trailing spouse,” but he persuaded me to look at the sojourn as a Sabbatical and I’d be back at work before I knew it.  

The ride from the airport into town was eerie. There practically weren’t any cars on the road and it felt as if the taxi were entering a ghost town. In my jet-lagged condition, I wondered what we’d find at the rental apartment.  Would it be as I’d remembered? Would there be sheets on the beds? Why weren’t any stores much less restaurants open? What had I done? It sounded so romantic but I was in for culture shock supreme.

It wasn’t until I saw the Eiffel Tower in the distance that I realized I was actually in Paris.  My life and I were embarking on a radical change and turning to a new and dramatic chapter. But that’s another story. Perhaps even a book.

In the meantime, I’ve learned to adjust to the month of May—and to the French and their frequent absences.

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Posted in Around the World |

Welcome to the new world of English

Written by admin on September 4, 2008 – 2:57 pm -

Even though English has been accepted as the international language of business, the French Teachers’ Union doesn’t agree with a proposal presented by the Ministry of Education. Undoubtedly members of the Académie française, founded in 1635 by Cardinal Richelieu to preserve the French language, agree with the union.

The French Minister of Education Xavier Darcos declared that speaking fluent English is essential to being successful. He has proposed that free English lessons be offered during school holidays and be accessible to everyone.

It’s anticipated that President Nicholas Sarkozy will back the plan as he’s publicly stated that English fluency is critical to attract businesses to France.

Xavier Darcos stated, “It’s a handicap to speak poor English. Affluent families send their children abroad to learn English, I’m offering lessons to everyone right here.” Undoubtedly, being able to communicate will create a more competitive playing field.

Times are changing. Just two years ago, former President Jacques Chirac stormed out of an EU summit meeting when a fellow Frenchman started making his presentation in English.

C’est la vie. Why do I feel that in the not too distant future, it’s going to be hard to have a conversation in French with anyone under the age of 40? For that matter, it already is.

Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |