France: Less Work, More Time Off

How The French Get Months Off Without Taking A Pay Cut

How long a vacation are you taking this summer? Two weeks? One week? A long weekend?

America is a nation of workaholics. We may all want more time off from work, but we never seem to be able to take it.

There are millions of people, though, who take endless vacations in the summer -- a month, two months, even more. We're not talking about the idle rich. These are government employees, blue-collar workers, office clerks. How do they manage this? What's their secret? They live in France, Correspondent Lara Logan reports.
"In my line of job, I am a journalist working on a French newspaper. We have eight weeks of vacation -- eight weeks of vacation," says Stephane Marchand, a senior economics editor at the French newspaper, Le Figaro. "Eight weeks, yes. I know it may be surprising for you because I know in the U.S. you might have only two or three, if you're lucky, but we have eight."

Like most Frenchmen, Marchand has no guilt about taking so much time off. In fact, it's the law: full-time workers in France are guaranteed at least five weeks vacation -- guaranteed those long lazy days in the sun, and leisurely lunches in outdoor cafes.

On top of the five weeks, there are another dozen public holidays, and a maximum 35-hour work week, with no paid overtime allowed. Managers like Marchand, who work more than 35 hours a week, get more time off.

"The so-called 35-hour work week gives us 22 more days a year," says Marchand.

Twenty-two more days in addition to the eight weeks vacation?

"Yes," says Marchand. "Which is a lot."

Normally busy streets in Paris empty out in July and August, when most locals take their annual holiday. Shops and businesses are often deserted for a month, sometimes longer. Whole apartment buildings are shuttered when Parisians flee the city.

The French are so passionate about their vacations, they put pleasure before profit. As tourists throng the streets and summer temperatures hit their peak, Paris' most popular ice-cream parlor is closed for a whole six weeks. It's the kind of business bonanza that would be seized upon by Americans, but the French don't seem to care.

"The big difference is money, the place of money in your life," says Marchand.

Marchand says money isn't the top priority there. Maybe that's because in France things like health care and education are virtually free. But if you think the French have unlocked the door to paradise, don't start packing yet.

The 35-hour workweek, meant to create new jobs, hardly made a dent in unemployment, which still stands at more than 10 percent -- nearly double the U.S. rate. And not everyone is thrilled about working even 35 hours.

Corinne Maier, a part-time employee for the state-owned electricity company, has written a book arguing that the French should work less or at least less well. "The aim is to keep your job without working," says Maier. "It's not to go higher!"

  • Rebecca Leung

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