Skip to content

No. 39: Les Vacances

Just freshly back from the Toussaint holiday, it’s clear that one of the 365 things any sane person would love about France is les vacances. The French do vacation right. I don’t think it is an overstatement to say that the French are always on holiday. They truly are.

On the books, France has just one public holiday for which workers are guaranteed a paid day off every year — Labor Day on May 1; mais in reality, most French workers enjoy 11 national jours fériés per year.  During the month of May alone there is a holiday nearly every week. In addition to national holidays, France has one of the most generous vacation policy, mandating a minimum of 30 paid days off per year…which you would think would be enough, but the way the school calendar shakes out, it would appear that even with 41 days off per year, most parents must have to either take time off without pay, or pay for a lot of extra daycare. (Take a look at this school calendar. Blue means vacation–and doesn’t include all the of the extra national holidays. Just look at all that blue!)

school holiday calendar for France, zone C (Paris and environs)

school holiday calendar for France, zone C (Paris and environs)

At Button’s French bilingual school, she follows a schedule of roughly 6-8 weeks on, with 2 weeks off, with a handful of other holidays scattered throughout.

Meanwhile, the average US worker receives a scant 16 paid vacation days and holidays combined. In fact according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, “the US is the only advanced economy in the world that doesn’t require employers to offer paid vacation time.” C’est fou! Contrast these two scenarios and you can understand why les vacances ranks high on my list of things I love about France.


I don’t think the French will ever budge when it comes to their right to holiday–to them vacation is sacred. France nearly shuts down in the summer as the entire population takes the entire month of July or August (or sometimes both) off. What’s even better, as far as I can tell, is that the French jamais, jamais, jamais, take their work on the road. Vacation is vacation. There is no place for work while on holiday. Indeed the French have co-opted a verb (rentrer) and turned it into a noun with a BIG “r” :  la Rentrée, to describe the en mass homecoming when families return from vacation at the end of August and kids head back to school.

Alors, as long as I am lucky enough to live in France, I will continue to be faithful to the saying “à Rome, fais comme les Romains.” Vive les vacances!!


à Rome, fais comme les Romains: In Rome, do as the Romans

C’est fou! That’s crazy!

jamais, jamais, jamais: never, never, never

jours fériés: holidays

la Rentrée: THE homecoming (after the summer hols)

les vacances: vacation

mais: but

rentrer: to return (home)

Toussaint: All Saints (Day/Holiday period)

Vive les vacances! Long live vacation!!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: