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Friday, July 29, 2011

Vacation, and other Religions in France

One of the most important things to understand in French culture, above the food, above the wine, above the strikes, is the concept of vacation. The French pride themselves in being reasonable and not involving religion with the government. This is true, if we're speaking of Christianity, and Islam (the burqa thing was not anti-Islam, but anti-religion in public buildings, in my opinion) What we are forgetting is the real French dogma--the mandatory vacation rights that are included in every employment contract.

Let's compare shall we?
Smalltown, USA.
Scene-A couple is searching for a place to eat lunch. It's July, its hot, and as it's only 2 pm, it will be for a while. They park their car (for free) stop in any store and use the bathroom, and then find a restaurant fifteen seconds later. They have lunch, maybe sandwiches, or salads, drink their reasonably priced soft drinks, use the bathroom, with toilet paper, once more, pay their tab, leave a tip, and head off to do a little shopping. On their way out they see a sign that says the hours, "10 am-10 pm every day but Sunday, which is 11-9."

Petiteville, France
Scene-A Franco American couple is searching for a place to eat lunch. It's July, it's freezing and raining, and as it's already 2 pm, it probably wont get any warmer. They park their car, pay the meter, and quickly look for a restaurant, as the girl has to use the bathroom. They find a brasserie which serves only baguette sandwiches. They ask if there's another restaurant, and they are directed down the road. Hopeful, they see a sign outside offering the Menu which is a drink, entrée and dessert for a reasonable 11 euros. Even more encouraging, there are people eating. The couple asks if they are still serving, the response, coupled with a look of horror, is "Mais non, pas de tout." "No, not at all!" Hunger making them faint, they ask if there's anywhere open now. They are directed back up the road to the original brasserie, and as they walk out the door they are reminded that "Vous ete pas a Paris, eh?" "You aren't in Paris anymore." They walk back up and order baguette sandwiches of smoked ham, which is basically jamon iberico, (can't remember what it is in English, sorry). They order a half pint of beer, and a bottle of coca cola, which is priced more than the two sandwiches together. They finish their meal and to fit in with all the other people hanging around, buy a lottery ticket. At the last minute the girl decides to use the bathroom, again. She changes her mind when she remembers there's not actually a toilet, but a place for feet, and a hole in the ground. As the couple leaves they hear the owner say "I'm leaving on vacation next week and won't open again until September."

A year ago, this situation probably would have shocked and angered me, now it's just yet another minor difference that I have come to live with. Gui Gui, without batting an eye conceded that "Well, it's normal, it's summer time in a small village, of course everyone has abandoned their places of residence and are on vacation."

The key, is simply to be prepared. Have a flight in August? Don't rely on a bus to take you there, hitchiking is probably a safer choice, with at least a fifty percent chance of success. Plan your boulangerie trips, if you check the town hall, there should be a list of each bakery with their planned vacation, same with most restaurants, and tabacs. Grow a garden, plant a vineyard, and start learning how to create your own lightbulbs (and biofuel, while you're at it) not only will you have a thriving hobby to occupy yourself as there's nothing open in August, you can become completely self sufficient (and maybe even ask the government to subsidize you!) You should probably also seek degrees in medicine, pharmacology, and auto mechanics.

Inconvenient you say? Hell yes, but preparation is key. The thing to understand, and the pretty sweet thing about French society is the sense of equality. So what if I just drive a taxi, or own a pub, I am just as entitled as you are, banker, engineer, teacher, working professional, to have my four weeks of vacation.

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