Au Bistro...

'Ponts,' Honors, Dishonors and Good News

Paris:- Friday, 3. May 1996:- In France there is one day of the year when nobody is supposed to work - except for absolutely essential services - and that is the 1st of May, International Labor Day. There are 10 other public holidays, when work is permitted. Four of these are in May.

In general, workers receive four or five weeks of paid vacation a year. With a good distribution of public holidays on a year's calendar, the basic four or five weeks can be extended. Take this May, for example:

May Day is on Wednesday and perhaps an employee has two days vacation left over from 1995 - that have to be used before June 1st or they will be 'lost.' So the employee decides to take Thursday and Friday, and that makes a five day weekend. If there are four days left over, the following Monday and Tuesday are taken too - making it eight days, because 8. May is VE Day. If six days were still available, it could extend to 12. May, making a total of 12 days off, for a cost of six vacation days.

If a public holiday falls on a Tuesday or a Thursday - say May 16th, which is Ascension - an employer will often declare the Friday a 'pont' or a bridge, giving the employee a four-day weekend. Sometimes salaries are paid for 'pont' days; but it is less frequent now.

Finally, Monday the 27 of May is 'Pentecôte' or Whitsun, but there is no 'pont,' only a long weekend. There are 23 official working days during May, but with the left-over holidays that have to be used or lost, a 'pont' granted by the employer, and perhaps an ill child (a legal reason to stay home), plus a little cold caught at the seaside (might need a medical certificate) - one might work only 12 days in May.

Of course May drives employers, economists and people who normally work weekends, nuts. Also, schools do not necessarily have 'ponts' (but many are normally closed Wednesdays) so while you are enjoying your 'pont,' you cannot leave town because the kids are in school - and when they had their recent 13-day 'Easter' vacation, you were working. I don't know why my kids had their 'Easter' hols, starting nine days after Easter Monday; and now I'm told they have to go to school on Saturday to 'catch up.'

A lot of people in France now work on weekends, and the whole country is generally open for some businesses seven days a week, May 1st excepted. All sorts of retail stores are extending evening shopping hours and some are experimenting with opening on Sundays, although it is generally against the law.

It will interesting to see what happens when Germany eventually decides on longer shopping hours - staying open Saturday afternoons, for example. Will consumption go up; or will shopping simply become more convenient?

Honors Day

In a report in today's Le Parisien, President Jacques Chirac is reported to have said, "When I see you I have the impression of seeing your spirit, intelligence, sensibility and fantasy; descended to earth," to the burly actor Gérard Depardieu, as he presented him with the red ribbon of the Chévalier de le Légion d'Honneur, at a ceremony at the Elysée Palace yesterday. Jean Marais and other personalities of the French cinema world also received decorations. Mr. Depardieu is no stranger to the Elysée Palace, as he was a vocal and public supporter of the late President François Mitterrand during the elections of 1988, when he voted for the first time in an atmosphere, which at the time was described as 'tontonmania.'

Dishonors Day

Today is World Press Freedom Day, officially recognized since 1993. Reports indicated somberly that 51 journalists were killed on the job in 1995, three-quarters of them in Africa. The Reporters Sans Frontiers association also said that 386 journalists were jailed last year and Amnesty International is concerned about freedom of the press in China. According to the Freedom House association, only 22 percent of the world's population has access to a free press.

Disarmament

About two weeks ago I was on my way from one department store window to another when I passed a shop selling hunting equipment, and guns. A sign on the door said that a copy of the new firearms regulations - described in the government decree of 7. May 1995 - could be obtained in the interior, so I went in and asked for it. The shop did not have a copy and the manager could not tell me anything about it, other than it was complicated.


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