I’ve been living in France for 10 years now and one of the things that I love but occasionally “struggle” with as an overachieving American, is paid vacations.
Anyone working full-time in France gets at least 5 weeks of paid vacation a year, in both the public and private sectors.* People working at McDonald’s, in call-centers, in tech companies, in small businesses, in national and local government – everyone gets at least 5 weeks off. Many organizations provide more time off than that, even in the private sector.
I’m just going to put it out there, I have 10 weeks of paid vacation a year. I am obligated (yes, forced) to take 1 week off at the end of the year, for Christmas holidays, and 3 weeks off in the summer. Like, I literally can’t go to work because the building is closed (public sector, education system, summer’s the slow time). On top that I have another 6 weeks left to use at different times of the year. And it’s use it or lose it, so… I use it. But what does a person do with 10 weeks off?
I am free to take time off if I’m feeling run-down or just want a long weekend. I can go back to the U.S. for weeks at a time and spend intense quality time with my family, or enjoy regular travel without having to wait for retirement. I can develop side projects (like a translation business), use my time off for home improvements, spend time with visiting friends and family, or yes, just sit on the couch, binge-watching Fringe and Modern Family. Parents can take time off during their children’s school vacation or take occasional Wednesdays off, a day when typically kids have a short school day.
I’ve been reading a great blog that’s part personal finance, part philosophy of life (Mr. Money Mustache, if you’re listening…). MMM and his readers (called “Mustachians”) talk a lot about how financial independence provides the freedom to use your time to enjoy and improve your life, rather than just work to pay the bills. While I may not be able to do choose my work without money “getting in the way”, I’m very lucky to have flexibility and time. I don’t make a lot of money and I probably never will, especially compared to American salaries (although really, apples and oranges). I am however time-rich.
I still share a certain American tendency to put work on a pedestal and to view too much free time as wasteful, even as a stain on one’s character (“idle hands are a devil’s playground”). But man, is life ever nice when you don’t have to keep your nose to the grindstone in order to keep your job and pay the bills. It’s wonderful not to be made to feel guilty about using vacation time. I sure would have a hellava time adapting to work culture in the U.S.
I’ve just gone back to the office after a nearly 5-week summer break. It came after 3 very intense months, with almost no time off, many weekend events, and I was getting snappy, disorganized and a bit disengaged, despite loving my job. My co-workers were in a similar state. Then came July and August. Everyone went on break to take it easy, to spend quality time with their friends and family and to concentrate on other parts of their lives. Now that we’re slowing trickling back into the office, the atmosphere is much more relaxed. This time of year always feel like a fresh start to me.
The point here isn’t to brag or to examine in depth a system that provides a lot of paid free-time. I just want to add my perspective to the whole work-personal life balance debate. I’ll let someone else do the economic and productivity analyses.
* You might want to check out this comparison of paid-leave per country. And of course, the U.S. is where you would expect.