Samantha David is a freelance journalist and writes for various publications including BBC Online, the Sunday Times, the FT, Living France, everything France, and France Magazine

Samantha David, writer

Le Dernier Mot - articles by Samantha David



      May is the best month in Moisson, without a doubt.  The sun is out, the flowers are blooming across the hillsides, the JMs are safely locked up in their schools, and I'm enjoying the liberation that comes with no heating and no watering.  Yes, for a few brief weeks there's nothing to carry. No wood, no coal, no water for the garden...

      Also, there are Bank Hols.  The month gets off to a brilliant start because 1st May is "La Fête Des Travailleurs" - the only legally-protected Bank Holiday in France, when you're not even supposed to do gardening or DIY.  You are duty-bound to eat, drink and have fun.

      Better still, this year 1st May falls on a Tuesday which means a pong.  Oh, all right, I mean a pont.  A bridge.  An extra day off to link the Bank Holiday to the preceding weekend. 

      Now you're not supposed to take an extra bank holiday.  It's completely unofficial but the practice is so widespread as to be accepted everywhere.  It's because the French lose Bank Holidays when they fall on a weekend.  They are grimly forgotten rather than replaced by days off in lieu.  But do the French make a fuss?  Non, Monsieur!  They don't mind at all.  They simply "faire le pont" next time round.

      A week later on 8th May it will be Armistice Day (Fête de la Victoire 1945) which will mean free apéros at the Mairie, a speech from the Maire starting "Back when I was a lad...", flags up all over the village, and flower arrangements laid on the war memorial.  And of course, another pong because wouldn't you know it, the 8th is also a Tuesday.  Yummy-hooray!

      Ten days later on 17th July we'll be enjoying L'Ascencion and because it's a Thursday it'll entail a further Pong, so that'll be our third long weekend in May and then, just to round things off, there'll be the Lundi de Pentecôte - Whit Monday - on 28th May.

      Except there won't be.  It's been cancelled.  After the heat wave in 2003, during which it was said that 15,000 old people died, Chirac declared Whit Monday a "day of solidarity for the old".  The idea was for the money saved to be spent on improving services for senior citizens and other vulnerable groups of people. 

      But this being France, there was a lot of harrumphing and muttering over this decision, with various people accusing Chirac of making political capital and/or taking it merely to punish those who had accused him of causing the heat wave deaths by not spending enough on social services.  People remembered that the now defunct car tax was originally (back in 1956) supposed to raise money for oldies, but instead became a general tax.  But no-one could quite come out and refuse to support the old folk.

      So the best brains in France set themselves the task of getting round it.  The railway workers came up with the most ingenious solution.  They decided to continue taking their paid Whit Monday holiday, but to work an extra, unpaid, one minute and 52 seconds per day to make up for it.  Great stuff.

      The schools of course have to stay open but many families keep their kids at home in protest, and teachers tend not teach proper lessons claiming that there aren't enough children to make it worthwhile, and generally-speaking, a large number of people insist on continuing to take the day off, many saying that they can't get to work because the trains aren't running... so I'm sure we'll be taking Whit Monday too. 

      In fact, the Merry Month of May is set to be a right Ponger.





If you would like to read more articles, or would like to commission one for your publication, please email me using the form on the contacts page.