• 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
Le Pen's unholy alliance hoping to destroy the EU
France's National Front party is trying to build a European far-right coalition. Photo: Frederick Florin/AFP

Le Pen's unholy alliance hoping to destroy the EU

France’s National Front party is trying to unite a multi-nation, far-right alliance ahead of next month’s crucial European elections. The distinctly anti-EU mob would include Nazi sympathisers, anti-Muslim leaders and fervent nationalists. We take a closer look. READ () »

Chinese crackdown hurts French booze sales
A Chinese crackdown on leaders posh gifts and lavish meals has hurt French booze sales. Photo: Mehdi Fedouach/AFP

Chinese crackdown hurts French booze sales

French booze sales in China have taken a hit after party leaders cracked down on extravagant gift-giving and sumptuous feasts in the wake of several stinging corruption scandals. READ () »

Blood on cloth didn't belong to King Louis XVI
A gourd said to hold the blood of France's last king, Louis XVI, in fact doesn't. Photo: File

Blood on cloth didn't belong to King Louis XVI

Scientists say a morbid souvenir from the execution of France's last king, a cloth dipped in his blood, is a fake. The long controversial keepsake has previously been verified as containing the blood of Louis XVI. READ () »

The view from La Rue
Parisians really are rude to tourists -  true or false?
Is the rude Parisian waiter more of a myth than a reality? We ask tourists visiting Paris to decide. Photo: Fred Dufour/AFP

Parisians really are rude to tourists - true or false?

Almost a year ago it seemed like stories of Parisians being rude to tourists would soon be a thing of the past, when city tourist chiefs published a guide on how to better welcome visitors. The Local took to the streets to see if tourists had noticed a difference. READ () »

France bids to cut EU's reliance on Russian gas
A view of the Russian gas giant Gazprom's recently built Adler thermal power plant. France wants to cut Europe's reliance on Russian gas. Photo: Yuri Kabodnov/AFP

France bids to cut EU's reliance on Russian gas

As the Ukraine crisis intensifes and threatens to divide Russia from the West, France and Poland made a joint call for a European-wide energy union that would help reduce dependence on Russian gas supplies. READ () »

Family pretend to be French to rob jewellers
Pretending to be French to rob a jewellers. That's a new one. Photo: Shutterstock

Family pretend to be French to rob jewellers

A family managed to steal €180,000 worth of jewellery from a plush shop in Milan’s Piazza del Duomo. Their modus operandi: pretending to be French to give off an air of sophistication. READ () »

Neo-Nazi Hitler party shocks French village
Scores of neo-Nazis descended on a tranquil French village. The local mayor had no idea what he had let himself in for. Photo: Scott Olsen/AFP

Neo-Nazi Hitler party shocks French village

The mayor of a small village in eastern France was forced to explain this week how he ended up giving the green light for a neo-Nazi party commemorating the 125th anniversiary of Hitler’s birth. The mayor said he presumed it was just going to be an ordinary birthday party. READ () »

One in five French workers is a civil servant
France's population of civil servants has continued to grow. Photo: Crowd.

One in five French workers is a civil servant

New data out this week shows France’s civil service has continued its nearly unbroken chain of growth since 1980. The figures, however, leave out a whole swath of people who are also on the government payroll. READ () »

French taxi wars: New plan to end bitter feud
A new proposal seeks to end the French taxi war. Photo: Patrick Kovarik/AFP

French taxi wars: New plan to end bitter feud

An eagerly awaited series of proposed reforms were due out on Thursday aimed at ending the ongoing war between highly regulated taxi drivers and private hire car firms, which has wrought havoc on French roads. The proposals seek to make the rules fairer for both sides. READ () »

Ukraine crisis
France to send fighter jets to patrol Baltics
France is to send four fighter jets to patrol over the Baltics, in a show of solidarity as tension mounts of Russia's agression i nthe Ukraine. Photo: Karim Sahib/AFP

France to send fighter jets to patrol Baltics

France is sending four of its fighter jets to patrol over the Baltic states in a symbolic show of solidarity amid growing anxiety in the region over Russia's intervention in Ukraine. President François Hollande is also set to pay a visit to Georgia in the coming weeks. READ () »

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Gallery
The view from La Rue: Are Parisians really that rude to tourists?
National
How to avoid a French wedding nightmare
Opinion
Reader Rants: Why sacked French ministers deserve no pity
Gallery
How well do you know your French text message lingo?
National
Divorced from reality? French plan for puppy custody laws
Travel
'Burgundy is for wine not wind': Will wind farms ruin famous wine region?
National
Why does France have a record number of people behind bars?
Society
VIDEO: Take a look inside Paris’s first luxury hotel for cats
Education
French parents are the most laidback about their kids' education. True?
Tech
What do French TV viewers complain about the most? Yes it's English
Business & Money
French tax declarations: The key points to remember
Gallery
French slang: Everyday words you need to know (but use cautiously)
Advertisement:
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
National
This will be the most expensive road in France - Only €1.66bn for 12km!
Sponsored Article
Why it pays to avoid banks when making overseas transfers
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