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

There are some drawbacks 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
The Millau Viaduc - France's second best bridge after 'bridge' weekends. Photo by Fred SCHEIBER / 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.

READ ALSO Why 2022 is a bad year for public holidays in France

However, the November 1st holiday of Toussaint falls on a Tuesday this year – giving people one of the few opportunities in 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.

READ ALSO These are the days off work that French workers are entitled to

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. 

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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.

After Toussaint on November 1st, the next holiday in France is the Armistice Day holiday on November 11th – this year that falls on a Friday, so not quite a bridge but still a nice long weekend.

We then have to wait until Christmas for the next holiday – French workers only get December 25th as a statutory holiday – which this falls on a Sunday meaning no extra days off at all. However it’s not uncommon for employers to give workers a few extra days off over the festive period. 

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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ENERGY

What you need to know about planned power cuts in France this winter

The French government continues to insist that power cuts are very unlikely this winter. Nevertheless, there is an emergency plan in place, so here's what it says about power cuts, from length and frequency to warning times.

What you need to know about planned power cuts in France this winter

Power outages in France during the winter of 2022-2023 are still unlikely, and President Emmanuel Macron has urged people “not to panic.” However, they are still a “real possibility” and if you would like to be prepared for potential power cuts, here is what you should know:

When and how will I know if there’s going to be a power outage?

You can continue scanning the situation using the website and application Ecowatt.

READ MORE: ‘Ecowatt’: How to use France’s new energy forecasting website and app

You will be able to see an ‘energy forecast’ for the following three days – which will put your local area into the category of Green (no strains in the grid), Orange (the grid is strained, consider decreasing energy consumption), or Red (the grid is very strained, power cuts will be inevitable without a decrease in consumption).

If EcoWatt goes red, the first step will be asking businesses to make voluntary decreases, so for example factories could go onto a three-day week.

If this still doesn’t work, then targeted power cuts may be necessary – but these will be limited in time and area and planned in advance.

The government says that power cuts will last for no longer than two hours and will be done on a commune basis – so there will never be a situation where a whole département will be blacked out, far less the entire country.

So how do I know if my area will be affected?

If Ecowatt is red, keep checking it – at 3pm each day it will be updated with any areas that face power cuts the following day.

At 3pm you will be able to see whether your département will be impacted and at 5pm you will be able to check your individual address to see if you are in a ‘load shedding’ zone (délestage in French) – the technical term for a planned outage.

You can set up alerts by SMS and email on both the application and website.

And of course there will be extensive media coverage (including on The Local) of planned cuts. 

How long would the rolling blackout last?

French government authorities have specified that power outages would not occur for more than two hours at a time.

They would occur either in the morning (between the hours of 8am and 1pm) or in the evening between the hours of 6pm and 8pm and would not affect crucial buildings such as hospitals. 

If you are impacted by a power outage on one day, you can rest assured you will not be in a “load shedding area” the following day, power bosses will vary the areas for targeted cuts and no area will have two consecutive days of cuts.

What are the things that might be impacted in the event of a power cut?

There are several every-day items that could be shut off during a power outage that you might need to be aware of; 

READ MORE: OPINION: France faces the real possibility of power cuts this winter and it can’t blame Putin

ATMs and Contactless Payment – If you are in an area that will be impacted by power outages, consider taking out cash the day before. During the power outage, you may not be able to access an ATM or use a credit/ debit card to pay, depending on whether the card reader is fully charged. 

Elevators and digicodes – if you live in an apartment block then both your lift and the electronic door codes will not work. Your building might block access to elevators during the rolling blackout. If you know you will be in an area where power is cut, you might want to consider postponing your heavy shopping trip or furniture delivery to the following day.

Digicodes and access badges also will not work without electricity. However, that does not mean you will be locked out or trapped inside, as the electricity is only used to keep the door locked. 

Shops closed – While supermarkets with generators will be able to remain open, you can expect some smaller shops to be closed during power outages.

Public transport – This will depend on where you live in France, though you can expect some services to be interrupted. Local authorities have been tasked with coming up with their own response plans in the event of power cuts. The French government has asked local authorities to err on the side of caution, in order to avoid the possibility of passengers finding themselves stranded in the middle of a track. As for the Paris Metro system, this will not be affected by power outages. Government spokesperson Olivier Véran told BFMTV on Friday that it runs on “its own electricity network.” You can expect more detailed information in the coming weeks.

Schools – While this has not yet been confirmed, the French government is reportedly working alongside the Ministry of Education to develop plans to close schools in the mornings if the area is to be impacted by rolling blackouts. This would be to protect students and teachers from having to be in the building without access to heating, alarm systems or lighting. Schools would be open again in the afternoons, as power cuts are not set to take place between 1pm and 6pm. 

Phone and internet service – During a power cut, there could be interruptions in telecommunications (both for mobile and landline devices). If you have an emergency, you should still dial 112. As this phone number is accessible regardless of the telephone operating company or line, there is still a chance it will be covered by at least one operator in the area. Call centres for the fire department and the police will continue to function. 

Traffic lights – Like other illuminated traffic signs, these are powered by electricity. It is therefore possible that they will be out of service during power cuts, so consider avoiding driving during a power outage.

Charging devices – If you learn that your area will be impacted by a power outage, consider charging any devices you might need during the day the night before. Keep in mind though that the power cut will only last two hours.

Hot water – If your water is heated electrically, it likely will not be available during a power outage. It would therefore be advised to plan around the two hour power cut for your hot water needs.

Refrigerators and freezers – There is no need to panic here – the power would only be off for two hours, so your food ought to remain protected, as refrigerators can keep cold up to four to six hours after the power shuts off. As for freezers, they can keep their temperature for 24 to 48 hours.

And what won’t be affected?

Priority sites such as hospitals, prisons, police stations, fire stations, critical factories and other emergency services will not experience power cuts.

If your power line also services a priority site, then you will be spared from blackouts. For this reason, people living in urban areas are less likely to be impacted by power cuts than people living in rural areas. As for Paris specifically, the city is so dense and is connected to so many priority sites that only about 20 percent of the Parisian territory could be impacted by power cuts. 

Current estimates show that about 60 percent of the French population could be impacted by power cuts – the remaining 40 percent are either connected to a priority line or are part of the 3,800 “high-risk patients” who are dependent on home medical equipment.

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