• France's news in English
 
app_header_v3

Breaking with tradition: French summer holidays

Ben McPartland · 27 Feb 2013, 14:16

Published: 27 Feb 2013 14:16 GMT+01:00

France’s lengthy summer break is as much a part of the country’s culture as croissants and cinema. Any hint by those in power that the tradition could do with a little updating, always sparks a media frenzy.  

That indeed was the case this week when the Minister for Education Vincent Peillon suggested on live TV that 'les grandes vacances’ as they are known in France could be shortened from the current eight or nine weeks to six. Nothing too outrageous of course, but the inevitable heated debate soon followed.

Cutting  the summer break to six weeks would bring France into line with its neighbours Germany and the UK, but way out of sync with Italy and Portugal where children take 12 weeks off.

But will the French agree to a change in their great tradition? The Local asks the views of three main affected parties - teachers, parents and the tourism industry.

The schools - Sebastian Sihr, secretary-general of SNUipp-FSU, France’s main teachers’ union:

“For us it’s not a taboo subject. It’s a tradition in France which is to do with the history of people working in the fields during the summer. Everyone was mobilized for that reason. We have around two months off but this is just average for Europe. In some countries it is more and in others it’s less.

“There’s a tradition to have a long break. As a union we are not opposed to changing this but we need to look at the timetable as a whole, not just with regards to the summer break. We also need to look at the school day, everything. The minister has decided to reform the 2013 timetable and now he wants to change the summer holidays from 2015. Parents and teachers won’t understand anything. It’s incomprehensible.

“If you changed the summer holidays and split the country into three zones it would completely imbalance the school year. If you want to increase the number of school days from 144 then we can play with the other holidays or perhaps Wednesday mornings.

“We need to find a balance. It will have knock-on effects for the summer exams – the Baccalaureate. How will that be organized if the country is in two zones? We also have a lot of families now spread across different zones, so that too will cause a lot of problems.

“The children are the most important thing to consider in all this. The problem is that there are other economic interests at play like the tourist industry. If the minister decides to change something it is not the teachers he will be listening to but the tourism chiefs. Somewhere behind the policy lie economic interests."

The tourist industry - Didier Arina, president of the company Protourisme:

“The French are really attached both socially and culturally to the long summer holidays. It’s a tradition that goes back a long way. It’s in our blood to go away in the summer. Any minister who attempts to change it comes up against a mini-revolution.

“It’s just like trying to change anything in France – it’s always complicated. We are ‘revolutionary conservatives’. It’s hard to get anything done here. It would not be a bad thing to cut the number of holidays down to six weeks, but we would like to see a zone system introduced, with two or three zones that could overlap to have three weeks in common. The common weeks could perhaps be the last in July and the first two in August. This system already exists for the winter holidays and works fine so it could also work for summer.

“While some say the zone system might make it harder for families split between different regions, it might actually make it easier for some. Children could go on holiday with one parent who lives in one zone and then the other.

“What is important for us is not the number of days they have off school but the number of days the French go on holiday for. At the moment the average is just 13 days. It’s not that much and its getting less and less because people cannot afford it.

Story continues below…

“The teaching unions are a powerful body and a difficult machine to move. This means it will be difficult to change anything.”

The parents: Jean-Jacques Hazan, president of the Federation of the Councils of Parents of State School pupils:

“We are in favour of a reduction to the summer holidays. Millions of children do not even get to go on holiday and on average the French only go away for two to three weeks. But if it changes then we want the government to respect the routine of having a maximum of seven weeks in school followed by two weeks off. According to experts, it takes children around one week to get school out of their system so they need the second week to really rest.

“We feel that the current eight to nine weeks off is too long for the children. After two months of holidays many children have forgotten what they learned the previous year and struggle to get back into the right frame of mind.

“It is also true that parents have trouble organizing summer holidays for their children, whether it’s for financial reasons or for some other problem. Because parents themselves get less holidays, they often have to pay to leave them at leisure centres, leave them at home or make arrangements with members of their families.

Ben McPartland (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
15 injured in Welsh bus accident in France
The bus ended on its side in a ditch. Two helicopters were dispatched to the site. Photo: AFP

UPDATED: Fifteen people were injured, two of them seriously, when a bus carrying teenagers from Wales rolled over on a motorway in eastern France on Saturday, the local gendarmerie said.

Libya armed groups urge fight against French troops
Dozens of protesters rallied Friday outside the GNA’s former headquarters in a Tripoli navy base. Photo: AFP

Armed groups including Islamists have urged Libyans to mobilise against French and other foreign troops deployed in the country, denouncing their presence as a “blatant aggression”.

EgyptAir flight broke up midair after fire: report
The Airbus A320 was en route from Paris to Cairo when it disappeared from radar over the Mediterranean. Photo: AFP

An EgyptAir flight that crashed into the Mediterranean in May likely broke up in midair after a fire erupted in or near the cockpit, the New York Times has reported.

IMF boss Lagarde to stand trial over $400 million payout
Lagarde will be the third successive IMF chief to face trial. Photo: AFP

IMF chief Christine Lagarde was ordered Friday to stand trial in France over a massive state payout to a colourful tycoon when she was French economy minister, dealing a setback to her stellar career.

Hollande defends minister under fire over Nice attack
The Nice assault was the third major attack on French soil in the past 18 months. Photo: AFP

French President Francois Hollande on Friday defended his government from accusations it relaxed its anti-terror defences after the Euro championships, and announced plans to arm the fight against the Islamic State group which claimed the Nice attack.

Why was Nice ordered to delete CCTV images of attack?
Photo: AFP

The fact that city authorities in Nice were asked to delete images of the truck attack has only given weight to those criticizing the government.

Thirteen free and easy ways to learn French
Photo: Runs With Scissors/Flickr

Struggling to learn French? Here are some free and easy ways to help you conquer the language once and for all.

32 mistakes foreigners make when they arrive in France
Photo: Tatyana A./Flickr

How many of these have you committed?

France to supply Iraq artillery as it steps up fight against Isis
Photo: AFP

France is stepping up its battle against Isis in the Middle East.

How to show solidarity with France? Don’t cancel your trip
Photo: AFP

The best way to show fraternity with France after the latest terror attack is not on Facebook or Twitter, but by coming to visit.

Sponsored Article
5 reasons to try dating in Paris with The Inner Circle
Features
Six outdoor bars in Paris you simply must visit
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Culture
The open-air Villette cinema has been cancelled over security fears
Culture
Henri Rousseau exhibition proves huge hit in Paris
National
Frenchman caught trying to sell Nice massacre souvenirs online
Society
OPEN NOW: Here's why you should head to the Paris Plages
Culture
What's on in France: Still plenty to see and do in July
Lifestyle
Treasures of Versailles to go on display in Australia
Sponsored Article
Avoid hidden fees when sending money overseas
National
How to keep cool during France's heatwave
Sponsored Article
Why Swiss hospitality graduates are in demand
National
Nice attack: What we know so far
National
Nice attacker: Body-building, drug-taking, violent flirt
National
IN IMAGES: Drawings in tribute to Nice attack victims
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Society
Promenade des Anglais: The iconic heart of the French Riviera
France faces more questions after latest deadly attack
National
Why is France the target of choice for jihadist attacks?
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
National
Nice truck attack: 'Bodies went flying like bowling pins'
Nice attack: Families of missing make pleas on Twitter
Politics
Boris Johnson cheered and booed at Bastille Day party
Sponsored Article
Why Swiss hospitality graduates are in demand
National
Ten reasons not to leave Paris this summer
Ten ways other expats in France drive you mad
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
'Very Stupid' village in France honoured for its silly name
Travel
Ten crazy things to do in France if you dare
Society
Paris: an obstacle course for wheelchair users
Brits ignore Brexit fears to make dream move to France
2,765
jobs available