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The Holiday That Was, Then Wasn't And Now Is

May 22, 2008
This is the rather muddled tale of the public holiday that disappeared from the French calendar four years ago when it became a quasi-working day. But lo and behold, and hallelujah, everything's back to normal at last and lundi Pentecôte, or Whit Monday, is once again a day off.

Up until 2004 it always was. Whit Monday was Whit Monday clear and simple - and nobody worked (just for a change).

But the seeds of confusion were sown in 2003 though as the government sought a knee-jerk response to the fatal heat wave in June of that year, which killed more than 11,000 (mainly) elderly people. Some bright spark in government hit on the idea of scrapping Whit Monday as a holiday and replacing it with a "Day of Solidarity."

No more public holiday and instead people would work and income generated from that day (estimated at around €2 billion) would boost the (tax) coffers to care for the elderly and handicapped.

Good idea - Right? Only on paper, and perhaps not even on that!

What mustn't be forgotten is that much of the country's workforce was already struggling with the 35-hour working week and the requirement to take a certain number of "enforced" days off (RTTs) a year to keep to the letter of the law.

So many companies saw the new "non holiday" as a chance to oblige employees to use up one of those RTTs and closed for business. Meanwhile others chose to remain open, leaving it to individuals to decide whether they went to work or claimed the day as an RTT (which they were of course entitled to do).

The result on an annual basis was nothing short of a fiasco. Schools closed, but many parents were at work; a couple of government ministries reported for business as usual but others put up shop for the day. And so this list continues. Bedlum pure and simple.

Last year saw the election of a new president, a new government and perhaps one of the simplest jobs anyone in politics has ever had to do - reinstating Whit Monday as a holiday. After all it's not as if anybody is really going to take to the streets to protest.

And as if to herald the fact that Whit Monday is officially back with a vengeance, the French will be taking an extra long break this year.

May 8 of course commemorates Victory in Europe day - needless to say another public holiday here in France - and this year it falls on a Thursday. Never shy of making the most of a good thing, many people will be "making the bridge" and skipping work on Friday.

As Whit Monday falls on May 12, France isn't likely to reopen for business properly until Tuesday. In other words a great chunk of the population will be celebrating a mere five-day weekend.
Not bad going in a country whose president is always stressing the need to work more to earn more and where economic growth for the year is regularly being revised downwards.

Happy holidays.
About the Author
Johnny Summerton is a broadcaster, writer and journalist based in Paris. Visit his site for a look at some the stories making the headlines here in France http://www.persiflagefrance.com or for his travel pieces log on to http://www.urlswurld.blogspot.com
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