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Faire le pont: The best thing about France's public holiday system

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Faire le pont: The best thing about France's public holiday system
Photo by PATRICK VALASSERIS / AFP

There are some drawbacks to the public holiday system in France but at least you can't beat the so-called 'ponts'.

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France has a pretty generous system of public holidays, but there are a couple of drawbacks for employees in the country - the principle one being that in some years the calendar conspires to deprive you of days off work.

Unlike the UK where the day off is generally taken on the nearest Monday to the festival day, in France the public holiday is on whatever day of the week it lands on - great news if it's a Monday or a Friday, but if it falls on a weekend you just lose your day off.

Some French workers, depending on their 'convention' (the legal agreement and set of work standards the company falls under), might be able to recuperate the lost day into their paid leave (congé payé), but this is not available for all sectors.

This is why you will hear about particular years being 'a good year' for holidays, when the maximum number of holidays fall on a week day and - even better - fall on a Monday or a Friday to create a long weekend.

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The year 2023 has been a particularly good one for holidays - especially the month of May which had four holidays and one 'bridge' day.

The Christian holiday of Ascension was on a Thursday in 2023 - this gave workers the opportunity to 'bridge' Friday and enjoy a three-day working week.

The nifty little system of "doing the bridge" (faire le pont) occurs when people take a Monday or a Friday off if a public holiday occurs on a Tuesday or Thursday. Therefore you get a lovely four-day break while only using up one day of annual leave.

If the holiday falls on a Wednesday - as does Toussaint (November 1st) this year - you can faire le viaduc (do the viaduct) which means taking two days off to join the holiday to the weekend.

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While these are very popular with employees, they're less loved by bosses. Back in 2014, a year that had three "pont" days, the estimated cost to the economy was €4 billion.

"People think more about their holidays than work," Patrick Durussel, who owns a company in the Oise region of northern France, told Europe1 radio at the time of the report. 

He added that when too many long weekends crop up in a row, his business has to push back deadlines, then charge less for work, and ultimately lose money. 

Top business owners have tried to cut down on the public holidays in France, but union leaders reacted with fury, so rest assured, the public holidays (and their bridge days) look set to hang around. 

Workers in France get 11 public holidays in a year, apart from the people of Alsace-Lorraine who get 13 due to complicated historical reasons involving invasions.

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[email protected] 2020/05/23 11:34
My business is doing very well, public holidays make no difference. And quality of life of employees is higher. But who wants that?
[email protected] 2020/05/23 09:58
Ascension Day is always on a Thursday, not just this year!
[email protected] 2020/05/23 07:47
The best thing? Only if you don't own a business.

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