• France's news in English
 

Breaking with tradition: French summer holidays

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.

“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
BREAKING NEWS
'Several injured' as train hits lorry near Paris
Images from passenger Gilles Vidart show the train derailed with passengers waiting alongside the carriages. Photo: Twitter/Gilles Vidart

'Several injured' as train hits lorry near Paris

UPDATED: A passenger train has hit a lorry at a level crossing in the town of Nangis to the south-east of Paris on Tuesday morning, with sources claiming several people have been left injured, including one seriously. READ  

British expats left in lurch by NHS clampdown

British expats left in lurch by NHS clampdown

British people living in France and other European countries could be forced to take out private health insurance, due to the latest clampdown on expats using the UK's National Health Service. READ  

Assad blasts France for supporting 'terrorists'
Bashar al-Assad gives a wid-ranging interview to France 2 TV channel this week. Photo: France 2

Assad blasts France for supporting 'terrorists'

In an interview with French television Syria's leader Bashar al-Assad has accused France of supporting the "terrorists" who oppose his regime. Last week Assad warned that the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris was just the tip of the iceberg. READ  

Tossing cigarette butts in Paris to prompt €68 fines
Cigarette butts in a tree grille in Paris. Photo: AFP

Tossing cigarette butts in Paris to prompt €68 fines

Paris officials have announced plans to increase the fine for tossing cigarette butts on the street from €35 to €68, their latest move to make the city cleaner and greener. READ  

Hollande urges peace deal for strife-torn Libya
Migrants from sub-Saharan Africa sit at a center for illegal migrants in the al-Karem district of the Libyan eastern port city of Misrata. Photo: AFP

Hollande urges peace deal for strife-torn Libya

French President Francois Hollande on Monday condemned the killing of at least 28 Ethiopian Christians in Libya, urging a peace deal to restore order in the conflict-ridden nation. READ  

French mum creates 'universal language' app
The app in use. Photo: YouTube (screenshot)

French mum creates 'universal language' app

The French mother of an autistic child has created what is believed to be the world's first app that allows everyone and anyone to communicate together - regardless of their mother tongue or inability to speak at all. READ  

Opinion - Votes for expats
Why Brits in France must fight for right to vote
British expats who have spent years in France lose their right to have a say in who sits in the Houses of Parliament. Photo: Hagwall/Flickr

Why Brits in France must fight for right to vote

Thousands of foreigners living in France including Brits and Irish are barred from voting back home. In the second part of our series on voting rights for expats, The Local hears from one 'excluded' Briton who is urging others to fight for a fundamental right. READ  

Paris: 'Gun shot' causes panic at Elysée Palace
The Elysee Palace in Paris. Photo: Vostok 91/Flickr

Paris: 'Gun shot' causes panic at Elysée Palace

There was panic, confusion and one very red-faced security guard at France's presidential palace last week, when a gunshot was reportedly fired on the ground floor. READ  

Migrant Boat Tragedy
France 'must do more' to end migrant tragedies
One of six makeshift boats filled with migrants which was spotted by an Italian Navy ship, in the Mediterranean sea near Lampedusa. Photo: Italian Navy

France 'must do more' to end migrant tragedies

As the EU comes under fire over the latest boat tragedy in the Mediterranean Sea that saw hundreds of migrants drown, a leading French humanitarian organisation says France must do more to end the disasters. READ  

France looks abroad to find blame for smog
The Montparnasse Tower, right, and the Notre Dame cathedral in a thick smog. Photo: AFP

France looks abroad to find blame for smog

After France recorded more spikes in air pollution in recent months, the minister of ecology has turned her sights on France's neighbours, suggesting that they may be contributing to the dirty air that settles some cities, notably Paris. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
National
Expats face Monday deadline to register to vote for UK election
Features
The weirdest objects you can see around Paris
For many Britons 'Waterloo' is just an Abba song or a train station
IN PICTURES: See the French ship 'Hermione' set sail again for the US
Opinion
Is it time the French scrapped tu and vous?
National
Sexual harassment rife on Paris trains
National
Marine Le Pen makes Time 'most influential' list
Cannes Film Festival line-up revealed
National
Cartoonist's book slams 'Islamophobia swindlers'
National
More French women than men lured by Isis
Society
Les Entrepreneurs: We chat with the founder of Paris Picnic
National
Edith Piaf celebrated at Parisian exhibit
How the health reforms will change life in France
Gallery
Naked protests: The French love to take their clothes off to make a point
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Then and now - the site of the Alps plane crash
Travel
So why would anyone really want to live in Lille?
Opinion
Why the French should be very worried about new spying powers
National
Spain's newest export to France: Vultures
Did a row over stolen veg lead to the murder of a British expat in France?
VIDEO: French rail chiefs SNCF furious after the Paris-Roubaix race
Sport
What the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris would look like
Culture
IN PICS: Take a look inside France's new 36,000 year-old tourist site
International
Did the Pope reject France's envoy to the Vatican because he was gay?
Cyberjihad: Hacking of French TV channel was 'a step up'
Politics
PROFILE: Jean-Marie Le Pen - France's far-right master provocateur
National
France's fatigued 'anti-terror' police resort to calling sick
National
Dipping baguette in a bowl of coffee! - French habits foreigners don't get
Strike latest: Scores of flights cancelled in France
Features
New Calais migrant camp 'the worst in Europe'
Society
ASK THE EXPERTS: So why are the French always on strike?
National
French air traffic control strike: Tourists face travel chaos
Culture
Which stars will land an invite to the Cannes Film Festival?
Technology
Paris holds film festival for blind cinema goers
National
Paris wants to triple its number of cyclists by 2020
National
Readers tell us of the joys of living in France's 'expat no-go zones'
Cannes Film Festival says no to red carpet selfies for 2015
Health
France to ban unlimited refills of soft drinks
National
Germanwings co-pilot 'searched suicide info'
The enclosed terraces of Paris cafés - where the smoking ban is ignored.
France's 'winter truce' has been called off, but what exactly is it?
National
What's on in France: Ten things to do in April
National
Paris bistros crack down on loud tourists. Surely it's an April Fools
National
The key reforms of France's healthcare bill
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

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 Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

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