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

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

Faire le pont: The best thing about France's public holiday system
Photo: AFP
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.
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.
Ironically 2020 – when we spent large parts of the year confined to the home – was a good year for public holidays, but 2021 and 2022 are both bad years, because several key holidays fell on a Saturday last year and fall on a Sunday this year, meaning no extra day off.
However, the Christian holiday of Ascension falls on a Thursday and it gives people the first opportunity of 2022 to partake in a great French tradition – doing the bridge.
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 you can faire le viaduc (do the viaduct) which means taking two days off to join the holiday to the weekend.
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.
The next public holiday is the Fête nationale on July 14th, although some people get Pentecost as a day off on June 6th.

Member comments

  1. My business is doing very well, public holidays make no difference. And quality of life of employees is higher. But who wants that?

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Revealed: The best cities in France to be a student

Every year, QS best student cities releases its ranking of the world's most student-friendly locations. This year four French cities made the list.

Revealed: The best cities in France to be a student

As a student, some cities are more attractive than others. Each year QS rankings assess 140 cities around the world based on what they have to offer students in terms of their affordability, quality of life, the opinions of former students who studied there, as well as general desirability, employer activity, and how many students live there. 

This year, for the 2023 ranking, five French cities – Paris, Lyon, Toulouse, and Montpellier – made the list, with Paris making the top 10. 

Paris, Lyon and Toulouse have been listed in the ‘best cities’ ranking for several years, but this will be the first year for Montpellier. In order to be included, the population must be a minimum of 250,000 people and the city must be home to at least two universities that have been listed in the QS World University Rankings.

READ ALSO 8 ways to save money as a student in France

This year, France’s cities have moved up in the list. Across the board, two factors improved: “student mix” and desirability. The former measures what proportion of the city is made up of students, as well as the diversity of students and the inclusivity of the city and country for students, while the latter measures general questions like safety, pollution, and how appealing the city is to respondents.

On the other hand, affordability and “student voice” – the rating students gave the city’s friendliness, sustainability, diversity, etc, as well as how many students continue to live there after graduation – went down this year. However, affordability has decreased across the board in student cities around the world. 

France’s cities

Paris – The French capital came in 8th place worldwide and remains an extremely attractive destination for potential students. Paris is home to nine institutions ranked on the QS World University Rankings, and scored well with employment prospects.

The city came in seventh place for “employer activity” this year. The ranking said this is due to Paris graduates being “highly respected by employers” and that “there are lots of international firms based in the city’s business district which frequently hire skilled graduates.” In the student survey, the prospect of being surrounded by “beautiful monuments, history and culture” was appealing, as well as Paris’ nightlife. 

READ ALSO These are the culture shocks you will experience as a foreign student in Paris

Lyon – The gastronomy centre of France ranked 45th in the world, scoring well in terms of “student mix” and affordability. Lyon was credited for low tuition fees for international students. In surveys, students reported enjoying the ‘diversity of students from across the world’ in Lyon.

Toulouse – La ville rose in France’s south west moved up eight places in the ranking this year. Making it into the top 100, Toulouse came out at 78th. Toulouse was praised for its cost of living, as the city offers significantly lower average costs for rent – for example, a one bedroom apartment in the city centre an average of €712 per month, compared to €1,410 in Paris.

Montpellier – This year was Montpellier’s debut on the list, ranking 199th. The city performed well for its first year, especially in terms of affordability – ranking 35th.  

What about the non-French cities?

An overall trend is that cities are becoming less affordable for students.

In terms of rankings, London, held onto its first place spot, which it has had for the past four years, while Seoul and Munich tied for second place. The other European cities to make the top 10 list were Zurich (4th) and Berlin (6th).