Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Cultural differences - summer break

Welcome to the fourth installment of my monthly cultural differences series! I've missed two months (oops) with no real excuse other than that I've had the kids 24/7 all summer and not much time to blog.

It's August. We're in France. which means...

If you want bread, you have to walk the extra mile to a bakery that's open. The market is half the size it usually is. Don't try to find a doctor or a dentist. But if you want to park your car in the streets, don't worry about not having enough change - it's free this month. The city is deserted, everyone is at the beach.

When we just moved here we went on vacation in September and were a bit surprised that we only met retired people. Turns out that even people with small children that aren't tied to a school schedule yet will be on vacation in August because daycare centers are closed for the entire month and many sitters will be away too (our sitter, who is Portuguese, spends the entire month in Portugal - and the first Saturday of her vacation in a traffic jam on the high way).

Of course, historically, this is probably due to harvest time - everyone had to go harvest the crops in August so everything else had to shut down. But if I ask friends or colleagues why the entire country still goes en masse on vacation in August, they look at me as if I'm crazy, say 'well, it's always been this way / we don't know any better' or 'well, the industry closes (but if I ask why they don't have an answer to it!), so I have less work in August, so I might as well take my vacation then). School is out in the entire country from the first Saturday in July until the first Tuesday in September (for other school holidays the country is divided into three zones to try to avoid overly crowded high ways and resorts - or to give the tourist industry a longer period of higher income, however you want to look at it), but the family vacation is always in August - kids of working parents will go to their grandparents or summer camp in July.

The first Saturday in August is called "black Saturday" on traffic reports. It means everyone is standing still on the highways going south. (This year we thought we could go south the Friday before to celebrate my dad's birthday - it took us 6 hours instead of 3.5 - and that day was only classed as "orange").

Since we have kids and are more or less tied to the sitter's vacation schedule, we have been taking vacations in August, but still trying to avoid the huge crowds (so you won't find us at the Mediterranean beach then). This year we have a bit of a hap-snap vacation but will be going to the mountains next week, when the rest of the country is going back home to stock up on school supplies for "la rentrée des classes" (which will be the topic of my next Cultural Differences installment).

Is there a specific summer period when most of the people in your country take vacation or is it more spread out? Any other specifics to summer vacation time you know of?