Ferme, Conges, Vacances d’Ete
The signs starting sprouting up in late July. As Americans in Brussels, we’ve seen the zeal with which neighbors, businesses and service people embrace public holidays and Sundays. Cram all of your shopping into Saturday as you’ll find precious little open on Sunday. Don’t dare enter a shop or museum within 10 or 15 minutes of closing or you’ll face death sneers and risk being run-over by staff inching toward exits. How many poor patrons have found themselves locked inside shops from Saturday till Monday morning? Simply put, people value free time.
Several storefronts were closed for one or two weeks over Easter. But that didn’t prepare me for the onslaught of summer holidays. One of our favorite restaurants closed its doors on July 31st with a gone fishin’ sign of sorts announcing its reopening on September 1st. And so it goes with many businesses shuttering for all or some parts of August. The country goes on a collective vacation.
Americans measure vacations in hours and days; Europeans measure them in weeks and months. In Belgium, the legal work week is 35 hours. Companies that require employees to work 40 hours must compensate workers with an extra vacation day per month. This is on top of a base of 20 vacation days that almost all employees receive from the first day on the job. When I started my first job at a major US airline, I had zero days off in that first year. In year 2, I had a whopping 5 1/2 days off because my start date was in the second half of July. From then on, I had 10 days off for the next four years. Quick math says that in my first 5 1/2 years on the job, I had 45 1/2 days of vacation. By comparison, the average Belgian worker will have enjoyed over 180 vacation days. Three times as many as the poor American drone!
A recent study concluded that Americans and Belgians are equally productive. Just goes to show how wise our parents were when they told us to go outside and play. Not only did they know that frolicking in the grass and sandbox was good for the soul and psyche, they understood the dearth of free time we’d have as adults.
So if you believe in reincarnation, pray you come back in your next life as a European employee or if you can’t fathom living outside the good ole US of A, at least come back as a teacher…with summers and holidays off.