It’s Vacances Scolaires

Written by admin on February 26, 2010 – 3:11 pm -

How many times have I heard the words “it’s vacances scolaires?” And why does France appear to come to yet another halt? Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for rest and relaxation. But there are times when it seems as if the French actually go overboard. This February and March feel like that.

People are conditioned not to expect to accomplish much (okay, practically nothing) during August. Executives, who want to stay in Paris and take their summer vacations at different times, cave into the masses. They say it’s hard to accomplish a lot if they’re operating in a vacuum and most meetings are out of the question. Like the old joke: “Meeting? With whom?” But that’s August, a tradition and you can’t fight tradition in France.

However, the French government stages winter vacation over three periods depending on which part of the country people live. This is logical since it would be impossible for all French vacationers to leave home simultaneously. It also makes sense for the hospitality industry. Can you imagine every ski area and vacation spot (and the French tend to travel in large groups) simultaneously being inundated? Or how would you like to show up for skiing near Grenoble to find all the hotel workers had gone for sun in Guadeloupe?

The good idea of staggering vacations has the unfortunate consequence of making a two-week vacation nearly six weeks long. For example, Paris’s winter vacation began last week. So when attempting to set up a lecture for March 15th, the response was it wouldn’t happen because the decision-makers would be away—all of them. You would think in this day, when Parisians walk around with iPhones and Blackberrys they could make decisions and set an agenda a few weeks in advance. So would I, but I guess not. When the person who was in charge of organizing the meeting said, “Don’t you know, all of Paris is leaving on vacation?” I suspect my look was one of puzzlement or confusion—or just Americanism.

Other consequences are mixed. When you walk into a restaurant and ask for a table, you’ll more than likely be able to snare a table because it’s vacances scolaires even if you haven’t reserved. All to the good but still reserve. But the corner bakery makes less bread and is even going to close for a week. After all, the employees’ children deserve a vacation that somehow makes it impossible to bake the daily bread. Not so good.

A houseguest took a Segway Tour and had the time of her life, even though the weather did anything but cooperate with rain and sub-freezing temperature. Twelve brave souls zigged and zagged throughout Paris with Myrna and the guide. There would have been more participants if it hadn’t been (you got it) vacances scolaires, but a lot less camaraderie than the smaller group enjoyed. They wound up having drinks after the four-hour tour and getting to know one another. Good again.

Anne and Kirk Woodyard of Music & Markets were in Aix-en-Provence, hell bent on buying the apartment of their dreams. After a week of non-stop looking during this go-around, they returned to the U.S. without having signed a compromis de vente. One property, in which they were potentially very interested because the photos and specifications were precisely what they wanted, was featured in a real estate agent’s window with a sign saying “urgent.” When the agent attempted to contact the owners, they were vacationing in Corsica and hadn’t bothered to leave a set of keys. For that matter, they didn’t even leave a phone number. When the French go on vacation, they’re really on vacation and finding an Internet café on that island may not be so easy. That is, if they’d given their representative their email address. Not good at all.

But the event that has left me the most baffled is that the air controllers decided to strike and they purposely scheduled it during vacances scolaires. The majority of the long-haul flights took off and landed, albeit late. But flights within the EU, to French territories and North Africa were problematic if not cancelled. Numerous smaller airports in France were closed tight as a drum.

What’s amazing is you don’t hear a lot of bitching and moaning. Perhaps that’s an intrinsic difference between French and Americans. The French defend their right to take vacation and to strike and don’t appear to get bent out of shape. Go figure!


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