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Make sense of...The French and holidays

The classic holiday choice for the French involves lying on a beach in August – and this year Corsica is favourite destination

This month in France, more than any other, is when everything shuts down for holidays – unless, of course, you work in the tourist industry.

It is estimated that 40% of firms shut for at least part of August, which is generally seen as the hottest month of the year, even though average temperatures are similar in July.

The week of the August 15 bank holiday, Assomption, is especially known for everything shutting down and it is hard to find a tradesman or sort out an administrative issue at this time.

Sixty per cent of people go away, says the statistics body Observatoire des inégalités, but class is a factor: 80% of senior managers get away, but only 50% of manual workers.

The favourite destination is another part of France.

For many better-off families, this means staying in a second home, usually in a region to which they are attached, often because they grew up there.

Staying with family or friends is also popular, and the French tend not to go on organised package holidays.

The favourite destination this summer is Corsica, according to TripAdvisor.

 Generally speaking, the French still want a beach holiday – 56% said they were going to the seaside, compared to 20% for city breaks and 12% for holidays in the countryside.

However, the editor of magazine Touriscopie told RFI radio that mountain holidays are gaining in popularity.

Outside France, top choices this year are Spain, Greece and Italy, a study by Orchestra-Amadeus-Les entreprises du voyage found.

Turkey, Tunisia and Egypt have become popular, as good value for money, and Croatia and Russia also made the top 10 of medium-haul flight destinations, knocking off Germany and the UK.

For long-haul flights, the US and Canada came top.

Those going in August are known as aoûtiens and in July, juillettistes. June or September are the next most popular choices. Sep­tember is popular with retirees because prices are often lower. The classification website Topito says  aoûtiens are the wealthiest as prices are highest, and include people with senior jobs, who cannot get away before.

The popularity of a summer getaway has been strong since the 1930s when paid holidays were brought in. At first, it was two weeks, then three and four in 1956 and 1969 respectively.

When the office shuts down, most people take the time as paid holiday. For those who have not built up enough entitlement, it is possible to ask for congés payés par anticipation (early paid holiday), although employers are not obliged to agree. Normally, each month worked builds up 2.5 days of holiday to be taken in the next “reference period” (often June 1 to May 31). If the person has no entitlement, they can take the time as unpaid holiday if their employer agrees.

Other than congés payés or RTT days (time off in lieu of overtime), there are 11 jours fériés – public holidays.

The word férié comes from a Latin root linked to words such as fête (party) and foire (fair).

Six are Christian, two commemorate the end of the world wars, and there are the Fête Nationale (July 14), New Year’s Day and May 1, Labour Day.

In the Middle Ages, there were around 40 to 50, plus Sundays. The revolutionaries axed them as they were linked to religion but a few were re-established under Napo­leon, spread out over the seasons.

Alsace and Moselle, for historical reasons, have two extra ones: Good Friday and St Stephen’s Day (the “feast of Stephen”), ie. Boxing Day.

Only May 1 must be given as a day off as a strict matter of national law, apart from certain exempt sectors, such as hospital doctors.

In the majority of cases, the convention collective (rules on workplace rights in a work sector) and/or an accord d’entreprise (rules for a specific workplace) usually set out that public holidays are taken off.

They clarify what happens if you are asked to work, such as being paid extra on top of your usual rate or taking time in lieu. Rules may also limit the number of bank holidays you can be required to work.

If a bank holiday falls on a day when you are not normally at work, it is lost, apart from if your job’s convention collective gives time in lieu.

Many French people like to faire le pont (literally, make the bridge) when a bank holiday falls near the weekend by taking off a day in-between.

In some workplaces, it is part of the convention collective and a generalised practice; otherwise it may involve working a day in lieu or taking paid holiday.

To pay for the care of dependent elderly people, one bank holiday, lundi de Pentecôte, was decreed in 2004 as being worked without pay.

Employers instead paid a sum of money to the government (some maintained it as a day off for employees even so).

It came after a killer heatwave  in 2003. The possibility of doing the same with another public holiday was raised by the health minister and discussed during the Grand Débat but has been shelved.

Every few years the idea resurfaces that public holidays should be more multicultural.

Most recently, in 2017 a leftwing thinktank said the Jewish and Muslim festivals Yom Kippur and Eid al-Adha should replace two Christian ones.

There are no proposals to do this at the current time.

Public sector workers may ask for special leave to celebrate major religious festivals. If given, this is not taken off paid holiday entitlement.

The image here was drawn by artist Perry Taylor. For more of his work see

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