Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Cultural Differences - May Day

Welcome to the third installment of my monthly cultural differences series! I'm running almost two weeks late with this one but that's because I've adapted/resigned myself to the fact that in May nothing much gets done here in France (it's not yet as bad as August, but getting close!).

The reason why not much gets done in May is the sheer amount of public holidays this month, and the French custom to "faire le pont", which means you take one or two extra day off between the holiday and the weekend, so you now have a nice long break without having to take up too many vacation days (not that we lack those here - 25/year is about the minimum). It all starts on May 1st - May Day, a BIG public holiday in this socialist country. On this day everything (except the fresh market) is closed. And most astounding, in the city where I live, there is no public transport at all on May 1st. Power to the workers!

Many people might think that Holland is a socialist country too, and in some ways it is, but May 1st is no public holiday there and (obviously) it's not celebrated in the US either, so this was a whole new experience for me when we moved here (and I still can't get over the fact that there is no public transport service!).

Then May 8th is also a public holiday (WWII Liberation Day) and this year Ascension Day fell on May 9th, so obviously no one was working on May 10 (oh, yes, my hubby was - and actually the public schools were open too, but half of M. Sensible's classmates were absent) and many actually took that entire week off. And then last Monday was Whit Monday, so another short week. This all following on the 2-week Spring break and kids have no way of getting back into a normal rhythm (and there are only six weeks of school left before the summer holidays).

On the other public holidays in May many stores are "exceptionellement ouvert", so you can spend your free day with hundreds of others at the giant blue and yellow home furnishing store if you'd feel so inclined (or in my case, you can just go to the grocery store and don't have to think what's for dinner two days in advance).

Before we moved here I thought July 14th (Bastille Day) would be the biggest public holiday in France, but no, the post office will be closed that day but almost everything else will be open. May 1st though, is the sacred day in this laic country.

Which public holiday is most widely observed in your country? How much is closed/non-operational on that day?


Valery said...

whatttt?!?!? No public transport?!? I don't think that ever happens in Amsterdam. Not for a public holiday in any case. I think Queen's Day is the day that was most special, with most shops and services closed. Not sure how that will change when it will change to King's Day. But even then my supermarket was open from 8:00 to 12:00.

areyoukiddingme said...

These days, I think everything has gone to what I like to call the White Castle schedule (don't know if you're familiar with the delicious/disgusting steam grilled burger that is the Slider) - open every day except for Christmas day. Holidays are merely excuses for some sort of retail sale extravaganza. However, all the summer holidays (Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day) are still fine times for vacations or extended weekends.

I can't imagine public transportation shutting down, though. That's just crazy!

St Elsewhere said...

I do not think of any day when public transport is off too. We live in a land of festivals, and a random spread of holidays. And I can possibly count you a holiday for every month of the Gregorian calendar. But complete shutdown is unheard of.

Kathy said...

Wow! Sorry I am late to this one... I echo areyoukiddingme, as here in the states most places are open on most holidays these days.

Growing up we celebrated May Day here, but minimally. My mom would take strawberry baskets, smalls ones we got them in at the grocery store and have my sister and I decorate them. Then we would put little treats and things in them and bring them to neighbors homes. We would drop them off by the door, ring their doorbell and then run away so they wouldn't know who brought their May baskets!

My sister did it this year with her children and I intend to some year.

Thanks for sharing! I do really enjoy this series and look forward to your next installment. :)