• France edition
 
Tête-a-tête - Summer break
Breaking with tradition: French summer holidays
A deserted Deauville beach. What will happen to the great French holiday? Photo: Guillaume Paumier

Breaking with tradition: French summer holidays

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

France's tradition of the long summer holiday is under threat after a minister suggested cutting it to six weeks. In this week's Tête-a-tête The Local asks those that matter if the curtain should come down on "Les grandes vacances".

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.

“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)

Don't miss...X
Left Right

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Listeria prompts smoked salmon recall in France
Listeria contamination prompts seafood recall. Photo: Screengrab/Fjord King

Listeria prompts smoked salmon recall in France

A French seafood company recalled on Wednesday three batches of smoked salmon because they were contaminated with the dangerous bacteria listeria, which can cause a serious infection in pregnant women and older people. READ () »

French town takes knife fight to president
Villagers have asked the French president to help them get their name back. Photo: Jose A. Torres/AFP

French town takes knife fight to president

Defiant residents of the French village of Laguiole - famous around the world for its knives - have appealed to their president to intervene on their behalf after they lost a trademark battle in court meaning they are barred from using its name on their own products. READ () »

French parents laidback about kids' education
French parents least stressed about their children's future, a new study finds. Photo: Pascal Pavani/AFP

French parents laidback about kids' education

When it comes to stressing about the education of their children French parents are much more relaxed than their counterparts in other countries, a global survey revealed this week. And they are dead against paying for it, it seems. READ () »

France unveils freeze on generous welfare system
Cuts are coming to France's social welfare system. Photo: Patrick Kovarick/AFP

France unveils freeze on generous welfare system

France’s Prime Minister Manuel Valls provided his most detailed account yet on Wednesday of the “collective” cuts France will make to trim its budget by €50 billion, including a freeze on state pensions. The sick, families and pensioners will all feel the pain. READ () »

Pets to no longer be seen as just 'chairs' in France
Animals may soon be considered more than furniture in France. Photo: Danperry.com/Flickr

Pets to no longer be seen as just 'chairs' in France

France took a major step this week towards upping the legal status of animals, which presently sees them classed the same as a chair, a lamp or any old 'personal property'. But cats and dogs will soon be judged as “sentient, living beings”. The change wasn't welcomed by all. READ () »

France OKs first women aboard submarines
France will allow women aboard its nuclear-armed submarines. Photo: Defence Images/Flickr

France OKs first women aboard submarines

The last bastion of exclusively male jobs in the French military fell this week when the defence minister announced a pilot program to allow the first women to serve aboard nuclear-armed submarines. The minister also revealed an action plan to end sexual harassment in the armed forces. READ () »

France mulls plan to tax foreign truck drivers
Will foreign truck drivers soon be charged to take to French roads? Photo: Philippe Huguen/AFP

France mulls plan to tax foreign truck drivers

France’s much-maligned eco-tax charge on lorries that was scrapped late last year, could make a return, this time targeting foreign truck drivers, who could be asked to pay up at the border or even forced through the country's motorway tolls. READ () »

Ex-France international Makélélé faces tax probe
Ex-France international Claude Makélélé, once of Chelsea and Real Madrid faces a tax probe in Switzerland. Photo: Bertrand Langlois/AFP

Ex-France international Makélélé faces tax probe

French tax authorities have asked their Swiss counterparts to start a probe into former France international footballer Claude Makélélé, who played for English club Chelsea and Spain's Real Madrid among others. READ () »

France will stick to EU debt target, minister says
France will stick to EU deficit targets the country's finance minister promised this week. Photo: Joel Saget/AFP

France will stick to EU debt target, minister says

The new French finance minister vowed this week that his country would stick to the tight deficit reduction targets set by Brussels and rubbished speculation that Paris were hoping to persuade the EU to give them more time. READ () »

Dylan hate charge thrown out by French court
Hate charges against Bob Dylan over comments he allegedly said about Croats have been dismissed by a French court. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP

Dylan hate charge thrown out by French court

A court in Paris has thrown out a case against US singer Bob Dylan on charges of incitement to hatred filed after he was quoted allegedly comparing Croats to Nazis, his lawyer said on Tuesday. READ () »

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Business & Money
French tax declarations: The key points to remember
Gallery
French slang: Everyday words you need to know (but use cautiously)
National
Paris cops told to ‘purge’ Roma from posh neighbourhood
International
VIDEO: ‘Anti-French’ Cadillac ad sparks anger in France. See why.
Features
Buying property in France? Here's 10 things you need to think about
National
What will the future map of France look like? The answer lies within.
Politics
'The 27 French regions aren't the problem, it's the 36,000 towns'
Culture
Ex underage call girl Zahia picked to embody Marie Antoinette
Gallery
Buying a house in France? Ten things you need to think about
National
France bans work emails after 6pm! Sadly it's not quite true.
Opinion
Reader Rants: Why don't the French do charity? Is it down to taxes?
Society
VIDEO: The Paris zoo is back but this time the animals are in charge
Advertisement:
National
This will be the most expensive road in France - Only €1.66bn for 12km!
Society
Only in France? Gourmet pensioners party lands village in hot water
National
What's the worst thing to do when you realise you're on the wrong train?
From showers to kissing: Anglos tell Twitter what's weird about France
National
'A big quake will hit France and there will be casualties' - Scientist warns
Culture
After all the dozens of books is France still worth writing about?
Sponsored Article
Why it pays to avoid banks when making overseas transfers
Opinion
Paris or the suburbs - where would you live?
National
VIDEO: Walk the line - crossing the Seine on a tightrope
Society
Innocent dating or pimping? French 'sugar babies' site hit with lawsuit
National
Chef Gordon Ramsay seeks expat Kitchen Nightmares in France
Society
Barking mad? Dog testifies in court in French murder case
Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se