Saturday, August 21, 2010

Bonjour Paris Guestage: Recreaddiction

Reposting here - original on Bonjour Paris:

That site is rad I'm telling you, check their site for more great articles.

Sometimes I wonder how anyone survives on just two weeks of vacation per year. It seems like voluntary slavery compared to the French philosophy: minimum of five weeks. I look back on the old days like Mandela, reflecting on life in captivity. I was a bug in a cage, staring at a fluorescent light, and now that I've breathed the fresh open spaces and shining sun of a world with ridiculous amounts of vacation, a thought has dawned on me: I can never go back.

Just as living with only two weeks of vacay per year can make you tired, grumpy and desperately in need of a break, living with five weeks can also have some side effects. Frequent daydreaming and overzealous bikini shopping are signs that you may be suffering from over-vacationed-douchbaggery syndrome (OVDS). Don't be fooled... people who have OVDS... are recreaddicts.

OVDS can strike anyone at anytime; it does not believe in discrimination. Symptoms may include but are not limited to:

- over-sharing photo-mania
- depression, or "day-back-from-holiday" blues
- interminable blathering about where you will go or have gone
- spending entire days on travel sites and blogs thinking "I could do that..."
- irritability whenever someone else mentions their holiday while you are not on yours
- incessant whining about having to perform mundane tasks like laundry and actual work

The most flagrant of symptoms, however, is this:

No matter how much vacation you take, you never seem to get enough.

It doesn't happen overnight. It's a process. The first time I took a long vacation, I felt ridiculous for having so many days off. I didn't use them all, and invested the extra cash into next year's trip fund. That was how it started.

It's taken me nearly 5 years to realize this, but they say the first step to getting better is admitting you have a goes...

I don't have enough vacation god dammit. I have full blown OVDS, and there is no cure.

Five full weeks, plus holidays, plus twelve RTT days ("Réduction du Temps de Travail"—really just code for getting an extra vacation day per month)... is simply insufficient. What has happened to me when roughly 45 days per year is not cutting it?

I didn't believe it would happen to me. Me?! The work-a-holic, five-jobs-at-a-time, I-don't-believe-in-lunch-breaks IT geek? NEVER! How naive I was.

My colleagues laughed at me. My in-laws shook their knowing heads, waiting for the light to come on. Look at me now. I'm a vacation junkie. Just one more day. Just another long weekend. I need a hit! I drank the Kool-Aid and now I'm licking the inside of the plastic cup, not willing to waste a drop. I've tried to blame the French, but when it comes down to it, they just put the vacation in my hands. I'm the one who took it.

The French weren't always the terrible influence they've become. Their love affair with lounging developed over time. Some countries develop consumerism or green-values; France has evolved into a nation of hollidaniacs.

Between the world wars, the socialist nation started the first paid work week. Or as I call it, beginning of the end. They decided that they needed a break from the pain and anguish, and the week-long trip turned into two. Soon two was four, and then, before they knew what was happening... it was too late.

On top of the number of days, I'm pretty sure the French have concocted the MOST complicated allocation of rest in the known universe. A mere attempt at creating a more convoluted system would surely prove the existence of aliens. It's a protection mechanism, you see. They can't come right out and say how many days they're consuming—then the problem would be obvious. No, better to hide it behind a smoke screen of terminology, rules, differing time periods and exceptions.

So what makes it all so complicated? Where to begin unraveling the tangled web of vacances is the real question.

We'll start with the standard five weeks that can be used from June 1st until May 31st of the following year. Because Jan 1 - Dec 31 was just... too easy. You only get these after you've worked at least a year in the company. Or in my case, over a year because I was an idiot and started at the end of the year. I got the shaft in so many words.

Then you have holidays... some companies have adopted the absurd notion that if a holiday lands on a weekend, it doesn't count. (The weasels.) Then you have other companies which count them. But you can't always choose when they will be affected. (Ridic.)

Then... you have your RTT days, literal translation is "Reduction of Work Time". Clearly they didn't beat around the bush on this one. These are on thin ice actually and may go buh-bye any minute. Because France has a thirty-five hour work week (HA! 35 my exhausted ass!!), they allow for RTT days to compensate the extra hours that everyone does anyway. Typically it's a day a month, but depends on your company. The kicker is that some of these are "imposed" (forced to be used on certain days), and some are free to use whenever between Jan 1 & Dec 31st of the same year.

The difficult cherry on top is that you can use days before they're actually allotted in some companies. So then you have your days that are used, planned, accrued and will have accrued for both RTT and paid vacation. Don't even get me started on non-paid vacation... that is for the hard-core, the ones for whom there will be no easy road home. Too often I see those end in sabbatical, and it breaks my heart.

So let's recap all this:

- 5 weeks starting June 1st, but only if you've worked from June 1st the previous year, that are only good until the 31st of May the following year.

- 12 days starting Jan 1st, but you can't always use them whenever you want and some may be forced on you.

- Holidays that aren't always holidays.

- Keep track of what you've used, planned, accrued and will have accrued for both RTT and Paid Vacation.

- Don't even think about taking non-paid days off. That's just asking for trouble.

- Sabbaticals are for lost causes. Remember that.

- Have a stroke before you even plan your trip because figuring out how much you can ask off bursts a vein in your head.

I've tried to explain this simply, so it may not seem so bad—but keeping track is like trying to figure out that stupid train math problem. You know the one I'm talking about. If Francine is going south on a train to Nice traveling at 200 kph, and François is in a train riding north to Lille at 150 kph, how many RTT days vs Paid Vacation days will they have left when their trains collide because they were too busy calculating to watch the damn road?

Another way to get your fix is popping one out. If you have kids over here, it's like hitting the vacation jackpot. CHA-fricken-CHING!! My colleagues take on average of six weeks, plus their vacation time which adds up to several MONTHS of paid time off. And the kicker is the more offspring you produce, the more time off you can expect.

I figured France would change me in a lot of ways, like becoming more culturally aware, learning to adapt to different perspectives and simply accepting that living in another country means that you inevitably feel like a trans-Atlantic douche on a weekly basis. But OVDS? Being addicted to my lounge chair was not a result I could have foreseen.

As I write this I wonder what my former, single-nationalitied self would make of this conundrum. Would I be proud of myself for learning to slow down and enjoy life? Or would I be disappointed in my lack of go-getterness?

I'll never know for sure. All I can tell you is that all this talk of vacation has intruded on the planning of my next trip.

Bon voyage!


  1. Awesome! You're so right, OVDS sets in after about 5 years. The only cure is to become a famous writer...and you're well on your way. ;-)

  2. I was at my last company nearly 13 years so I was up to 6 weeks vaction...then while I was working i Europe I had 6 as well...but now that I am at a new job back in the States I only have THREE and it is driving me INSANE!

  3. The French and most Europeans are obviously more civilized than we are in the U.S. If we would develop a codependent OVDS way of life it would probably reduce our need for mass murderers, child slayers, and many other criminals. Our political leaders already have a similar system in place. The rest of us need to take it from them and make it our own. At last, I have a crusade! You ARE inspiring!

  4. Great read, Shannon! I've been an avid reader of Bonjour Paris for over a year now. It's great to see you writing for them!

  5. @Paul: PPfffffff... writer, maybe in my dreams. Famous? In my nightmares! I dunno. Whatever gets me more vacation I suppose.

    @Andi: OMFG GTFO. 6 weeks??? Wow. You must have MAJOR withdrawl issues. Courage!

    @Jon: Interesting theory... people will kill for vacation ;)

    @Karen: I heart them too! It's great to be writing for them, though I've only done the 1 article so far -- perhaps there will be more!

  6. Excellent study, Shannon! I have been a devoted readers associated with Bonjour London with regard to on the 12 months right now. It is excellent to determine a person composing on their behalf!

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