May: Open Season For Bank Holidays

So this morning I wake up to yet another French public holiday, the third this month. I know it’s only the 13th today. Pretty good going,don’t you think?

Sadly the two previous ones have fallen on a Saturday, so there has not been the usual three to five-day lull in commercial activity that is common France. Unlike the UK, public holidays do not move to fall on a Monday in order to elongate a weekend. Here it falls when it falls and the French make the most of it. Which, dear reader puts me in mind of something I witnessed in the Out Patients department at Saumur Hospital around the 5th January this year.

The start of a new year never sees high levels of human activity and France is no exception to this post-Christmas Gloom phenomenon.I patiently waited (no pun intended) in a queue of one (me) and stood around whilst the two receptionists grappled with the appointments diary. There clearly seemed to be some concern: Was a consultant unavailable and numerous appointments to be cancelled? A consulting room out of service? Neither as it transpired. They were bemoaning the fact that many of the 2010 public holidays were going to fall on a Saturday. This would therefore not allow the custom to “faire le pont” where an extra day can be squeezed in (for example a Monday or a Friday) where the holiday falls on a weekday (say Tuesday or a Thursday). Suffice to say that normal service was resumed when the 13th May was flagged up by the reception

team as a goer for a five-day break.

This natty little usage of time owed or annual holiday leave is a bit of a French art form, for if they miss out as they have this year,they certainly make up for it when the opportunity is there.

To quote an example, my daughter finished school on Tuesday afternoon this week and will return on Monday morning the following week. Not bad going for a single public holiday eh?

Jesting to one side, I think that the French have the work and play balance just right. They spend time on the pleasures of eating and drinking in the company of friends and loved ones with no fixed agenda than to enjoy themselves. In truth, perhaps we have lost sight of the joys to be found in simplicity and find an uneasy refuge in the shopping malls and the multiplex cinema experience.

It is for each of us to decide whether or not that is true for our own experiences.

While you are doing that I will leave you with one thought: Last year I took my daughter to visit a friends’ house on a bank holiday. En route I saw a family, just before midday setting up a table ready to eat under a tree in their garden.I passed that way again at around 6pm to pick her up and they were still there, laughing and enjoying the warmth of the late afternoon sun.

How many of us can say that our UK bank holidays are like that? Very few of us I imagine.