May in France: To Work or Not to Work?

Photo by peter2403
Photo by peter2403

Both finalists in France’s presidential race, Nicholas Sarkozy and Ségolène Royal, have insisted on the urgent need to improve the work ethic as a way to boost growth and jobs. Yet when the month of May arrives, the question on most people’s lips is: “What are you doing for the ‘ponts de mai’?”

The “ponts” or bridges of May are regarded as an inalienable right. They arise from the fact that the calendar contains four public holidays which French workers have artfully transformed into a series of long weekends. For example, next Tuesday, May 1, is Labor Day. So in order to make a four-day weekend, you take Monday off.

Thanks to the 35-hour working week ushered in by the Socialist government in 1998, many French employees are obliged to take off a couple of days of RTT (reduction du temps de travail) every month to comply with the shortened work week. As an article in Le Parisien advised yesterday, “by taking three RTT’s you can straddle the bridges to arrive, fresh as a carp, in the month of June.”

So be warned that work dwindles to a trickle in May, and it is often hard to find public services around these weekends. Here are the dates: Tuesday, May 1 (Labor Day); Tuesday, May 8 (Victory Day 1945); Thursday, May 17 (Ascension Day); Monday, May 28 (Pentecost.)

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