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.
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In what now seems a slight irony, 2020 is a good year for this, particularly the month of May.
May in France has three public holidays – May Day on May 1st, VE Day on May 8th and the religious holiday of Ascension on May 21st.
This year the first two fell on a Friday and Ascension was on a Thursday, giving lots of lovely long weekends – or they would have done had the country not been in lockdown for the first two with even a trip out to the supermarket requiring a permission form and had many people not been left totally unable to work.
In a particularly cruel twist of fate, 2021 when – hopefully – we will be back to working as normal with no lockdown sees both May 1st and May 8th falling on a Saturday, meaning we lose them.
But as Ascension falls on a Thursday this year, and as lockdown has been slightly loosened, it gives people to opportunity 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.
“Four day weekends” are in normal times a joy not just to workers but to the tourism industry as many in France will go away for a short break.
But although the days off usually provide a boon for retailers and the tourism industry, they cut hard into France's economy, with one report claiming that they cost the country around €2 billion a year.
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 1st.