Friday, 22 October 2010

One last thing

On my post A funny thing in France, GOR has commented on the work-ethic of the Americans and the work-shy Europeans. The gauntlet is thrown down and I must take it up.

And I will, after I return from my weekend away...

More on Sunday evening ;-)


Richard said...

Well, I'll get a jump start on it, with the American view.

GOR said...

Well, in preparation for the predicted joust I did a little (very little) research, as in: which countries have most time off. And while I was picking on the French in particular (they’re such an easy prey…), I found that the Italians may actually have more time off than the French. But it is a close call! And having had some experience of Italy and the Italians, that should not surprise me.

Now I have little personal experience of the French – limited basically to some fellow students in college many years ago and an unscheduled stopover of a few hours at Orly Airport back around 1965. So while I may not have set foot on the Green Fields of France, I did – briefly - on the concrete corridors of l’AĆ©roport de Paris - which hardly qualifies me for an in-depth understanding of the populace. But I do a little reading betimes.

France has a 35-hour workweek courtesy of the administration of M. Jospin in 2000 and replacing the 39-hour workweek of M. Mitterand. However, unions had been advocating for a 35-hour week since 1981. While the intent of the shorter workweek ostensibly was to encourage hiring and relieve the unemployment situation, one suspects that French workers already employed offered little resistance to the increase in leisure time.

It is also contended that the shorter workweek didn’t achieve its purpose in regard to increased employment as firms didn’t hire more workers but merely increased per-hour production quotas. However, I observe that there has been no nationwide clamoring to revert to the longer workweek (quel surprise!).

In addition to having longer weekends than most people, the French also have more vacation time than most – somewhere in the neighborhood of 7 - 8 weeks, depending on which source you believe. Thus the average French worker is now approaching the amount of vacation heretofore only enjoyed by those in the lofty realms of academe! (sounds of GOR ducking for cover…).

So the main thrust of the current kerfuffle in France has to do with the age of superannuation. There are other issues I gather, but this was the last straw and the camel is none too happy with it. To sum up the controversy then, it would be that while we all may wish to “crown…a youth of labor with an age of ease” the question becomes: when does youth end and age begin? If you’re French the former doesn’t and the latter may commence at 50, 55, 60 but - mon Dieu! - not at 62…

Accordingly I note that while there is a lot of travail in France at the moment, there is little actual Travail going on. Or as someone recently remarked: “So there’s no work going on in France right now…? How did anyone notice?”

To be continued…

GOR said...

Part deux… Where was I? Oh, yes…

It always amazes me how in certain countries masses of people can take to the streets at the drop of a hat – or a placard. While this is observed mostly in Latin or South American countries (Venezuela comes to mind) and Muslim countries in the Middle East, France seems to be the one Western European country most prone to it. It makes me wonder. Don’t these people have jobs? Families? Other things to do? Who is minding the store while all of this is going on?

I have never been a placard-carrying or banner-waving kind of person - other than for a brief period in 1982 when it looked like the Milwaukee Brewers baseball team might finally win the World Series (they didn’t - and haven’t threatened to since…). I can’t conceive of anything that would make me walk off the job and take to the streets with abandon, nay even with enthusiasm.

Then there are the inevitable confrontations with police and damage to property that ensue from these adhoc demonstrations. To what end? What do they hope to achieve with this? It is reminiscent of wild football (or baseball) crowds laying waste urban areas after a victory – or a petulant two-year-old stamping his feet and screaming “I won’t! I won’t!”

However, setting aside the French – which is easy to do (ask the Germans…) - we come to the issue of vacation in general and Europe in particular. It seems to me that in many European countries ‘vacation’ takes on a religious significance. Like Holydays in the Church it appears to be “of Obligation” - a sort of 11th Commandment: “Thou shalt not be deprived of vacation”. And it has the force of Dogma and may even be “by law established” in certain countries.

At the approach of Summer the European papers are replete with ‘vacation plans’. August appears to be the epicenter of this epidemic of leisure. The Church may have some responsibility for this. While Good Pope John famously remarked that only “about half” of the Vatican staff actually worked, it is well known that come Ferragosto in Rome the number approaches 100% as all and sundry decamp to the gentle breezes of the Castelli Romani or the cooling waters of Ostia, the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Adriatic.

This example appears not to have been lost on other parts of Europe with little work being done in the month of August as the pursuit of sun, sand and, mostly likely sex, seems to consume a large portion of the populace. “August is a Wicked Month” wrote Edna O’Brien some time ago, and I think she had it right. It certainly is not a ‘working month’ by all appearances.


GOR said...

Now we come to America (doesn’t everyone, eventually…?). Observing the ubiquitous American tourists careening through the historic European locales, Europeans might be forgiven for thinking that everyone in America is filthy rich, engages in expensive vacations all the time and has more money than brains (albeit true in some cases…). However, that is not universally true, nor are the tourists always exemplary of the general populace (or exemplary, period!).

While not averse to vacations and time off, we appear to value it less as time goes on. It used to be that workers got about 10-12 official holidays each year. But that has been progressively pared back (unless you are a Federal worker or a postman) and now you are lucky if you get five or six. The average paid vacation is two weeks, which may increase with length of service to five, or rarely, six weeks. If you move around a lot and are not in the higher echelons of the business world where you can negotiate an employment contract, you may never have more than two weeks.

And the timing of the vacation is not guaranteed. If business circumstances warrant it, and unless you have shelled out thousands of dollars on a prepaid cruise, you may find your plans are out the window and you are chained to your desk. Exceptions can be made of course for family or national emergencies or, reluctantly, for your own demise. Should you attempt to flout the conventions you may find your demise is hastened – professionally at least, if not actually.

I’m not saying this is a good thing or deserving of emulation. I’m merely reporting the facts of American commerce as I see them. We are frequently accused of always being in a hurry and not taking enough time to smell the roses, as it were. And there is some truth to that. As I approached retirement it irked me to see that so many of the up and coming people could not seem to let go of work. Even on vacation they would still carry their pagers, Blackberries and cell phones, having informed all prior to departure that they would be on vacation but would ‘remain in touch’… Frankly I thought they were out of touch – with the realities of life and the role of work in our lives.

My last boss was a workaholic, putting in 60 – 80 hours each week and leaving for an abbreviated weekend with a bulging briefcase of work to be done ‘at leisure’. Despite my frequent reminders to him that we “work to live, not live to work”, he never got the message. Sadly, he died within two years of retirement, RIP. A salutary reminder of the transitory nature of this life and the futility of putting work before all else. As our Jewish brethren are wont to admonish: “Life is short. Eat dessert first!”

Ttony said...

If there is time for nothing else, please let me wish you Bonnes Noces! and, as a token, give you a line for the speech:

"She asked for a special present: something that would do nought to a hundred and twenty in four seconds. I bought her some bathroom scales."

I find that people always appreciate any mention of generosity.

All the very best!

JARay said...

Well, I enjoyed your joke Ttony even though you have posted it twice.
All the very best from me also!

Ches said...

Richard, thanks for the link - very amusing!

Ttony, thanks for the joke - that's my kind of pun!

GOR, I think we're covered!