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World

Are The French Always On Vacation Or Does It Just Seem That Way?

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

As you plan your summer vacation, it might be hard to fit everything you'd like to do into the one or maybe two weeks of leave you saved up. In France, people are dealing with the opposite problem - too much time off. And as NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports, not everyone is able to enjoy all that vacation.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: In a piece I wrote in May, I described how hard it is to get anything done with all the public holidays and vacation in France, especially the school vacation. French kids have two whole weeks off every six weeks, plus two months off in the summer. In response to my essay, I received loads of emails of support from ex-pats, but do French people share my frustration?

PAULINE DUBOIS: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: I meet Pauline Dubois on a park bench as she watches her two children play. Dubois is able to fully benefit from the system. For starters, she's a teacher, so she has the same time off as her kids. There are other reasons.

DUBOIS: (Through interpreter) During the two-week breaks throughout the year, we go to the family house in Brittany for at least one of the weeks. And the other week I usually take care of them with the help of one of their grandmothers.

BEARDSLEY: A country house and dependable grandparents are key and Dubois's husband, like most French people since the advent of the 35-hour work week, has about nine weeks of vacation. She admits not everyone is as fortunate.

DUBOIS: (Through interpreter) Not everybody can get away. As a teacher, after the February vacation, I see the kids who have tan marks from their ski goggles and those who don't.

BEARDSLEY: Annick Metefia works with the Observatory for Inequalities. She says vacation in France is seen as a human right, but it does divide the haves from the have-nots.

ANNICK METEFIA: When you have a system indeed where there is a lot - quite a lot of vacation, you have the children in the poor communities who don't go on vacation.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Speaking French).

RAYANNE DUPUIS: Oh, OK, very good.

BEARDSLEY: But it's not just the poor who can't get away. Canadian Rayanne Dupuis and her French husband are self-employed, so they don't have paid leave.

DUPUIS: I have somehow been made to feel that my child has fallen behind because she doesn't have a star yet in skiing in the French Alps.

BEARDSLEY: Yes, Paris elementary schools run inexpensive day camps when school's out and the city offers recreational activities for children on a sliding fee scale. But after about age 9, many kids don't want to go to the day camp. Even they realize it isn't true vacances.

I meet Pascale Achard waiting for a bus with her two children. For her, a working mother, the kids' constant breaks are a hassle, but she says with the long, intense French school days, the children need the break.

PASCALE ACHARD: Yes. They have a lot of vacation, but we are used to it. I mean, we've been born like this with this rhythm and we are used to it. And for me, at the end of the six weeks, they need to get off.

BEARDSLEY: For an ex-pat not used to that rhythm, it seems the country is always off. At certain times of the year, it's hard to get your car fixed or make a doctor's appointment. Michel Roggero owns a small cafe near the Eiffel Tower. He says he struggles.

MICHEL ROGGERO: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "The month of May almost has more days off than workdays with all the national holidays," he says. Then there's the long vacation in August. He says his cafe's well-heeled residential neighborhood is often empty. Roggero's brother has come in for a coffee. He describes himself as a blue-collar worker and disagrees about the days off.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "Our vacation and days off can never be sacrificed," says Roggero. "We've worked too hard for them." Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.