French people take holidays all the time! Usually they stay in France and go south. I joke with my students that it is surprising that the country does not tip up with the weight of the many people on the Mediterranean and southern coasts during the month of August. France has 3 more national holidays than England. The UK is almost unique in the world in not having a day on which to celebrate our Queen or our nation. My students can hardly believe that we don’t have an equivalent to July 14, Bastille Day. Furthermore, mean spirited British politicians moved several of our holidays from their proper date to the closest Monday. British people could no longer ‘faire le pont’ as French people do. In France, if a holiday falls on a Thursday, they take the Friday off and get a long weekend. The practice could cost the UK £3 billion in lost productivity! France has 11 national holidays whereas England has 8, but the French can often get an extra 4 days when the May and November holidays fall on Tuesdays or Thursdays. As the Brits were major players in the first and second world wars it seems odd that VE (Victory in Europe) Day in May and Armistice Day in November are holidays in France but not in the UK. It is also odd that a country that is ‘laïc’, meaning ‘secular’, should have the major Christian festivals as holidays, for example Christmas and Easter, but also Ascension Day, Pentecost and the Assumption of the Virgin Mary in August. The tradition that Mary rose bodily to heaven and did not die is no longer a catholic doctrine, but who is going to argue about it, when to do so might risk the loss of a day’s holiday?
Then there is RTT ‘réduction du temps de travail’. Because the law says that people can only work 35 hours a week, any extra hours are put aside as holidays. One of my business students worked so many extra hours when he was on an important project that he was due months of RTT that he was never able to take, but the maximum that can be accrued is 22 days. All these factors mean that French people take on average 37 days (depending on the type of job that could go up to 59 with RTT) a year of holidays compared to England’s 28. (The Scots and people in N. Ireland get more national holidays than the English and the Welsh.)
Not having a holiday is seen as a deprivation. I read in a magazine that, ‘Si la France était un village de 100 personnes, 29 ne partent pas en vacannes l’été.’ If France was a village of 100 people, 29 never go on a summer holiday. To enable children to have a summer holiday, local councils subsidise summer camps for not so well off school children. Big businesses send out brochures to their employees with lists of summer holidays available for their children at very low prices.