Suzanne in France

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The Month Of May In France

The month of May in France is renowned for the many Bank Holidays (jour férié) that is has – there are 4 in total in this month alone! This should come as no surprise given that France does have a reputation for its generous annual leave allowance (5 weeks is the standard minimum for employées) compared to many other countries worldwide. It is fitting, therefore, that the Bank Holidays are not scrimped on either. France has a total of 11 Bank Holidays with some other regions of France having an extra 2. Whilst this is quite a high number, many European countries have a similar amount with Austria topping the most with 12.  Spain, surprisingly, has the same amount as the UK with just 8 Bank Holidays.

If the Bank Holiday falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the following Monday is not considered to be a Bank Holiday, it will be a normal working day. This differs to that of the UK, whereby if this does happen, then the Bank Holiday is taken on the Monday and if two Bank Holidays are consecutive, then the Tuesday is taken off as well. This can happen on Christmas Day and Boxing Day (or St Stephen’s Day in Ireland) if it falls on a Saturday and Sunday. There is no ‘Boxing Day’ at Christmas in France.

Last year in 2023, when Christmas fell on a Saturday, many employées were back to work on the Monday unless they had taken their generous annual leave to cover the period between Christmas and New Year!

Holidays are a very important part of French life. The French are well known for their desire to work to live and not to live to work. These holidays are non negotiable and are an accepted way of life. It is common to see a shop sign put up a notice and announce that it will be closed for 2 weeks for congés – annual leave. The longer you live in France, the more adapted you will become to this more relaxed way of life. And as the saying goes, if you can’t beat them join them!

And this is exactly what we did here at Suzanne in France – for the two consecutive Bank Holidays that fell on Wednesday 8th and Thursday 9th May we closed for the rest of the week.  Most schools and businesses were also shut. This is because if the Bank Holiday (and we were really lucky this year) falls on a Thursday, it is very common for everyone to ‘faire le pont’ the Bank Holiday. This means to bridge the Bank Holiday to the weekend. So effectively you take the Friday off as well!  An unofficial Bank Holiday so to speak.


Be warned though, most French will then dart off to all corners of France on the first day or evening before the Bank Holiday. This can cause congestion on the roads and many routes will be classed as ‘black’ or ‘red’ routes.  This will be repeated on the Sunday when everyone is travelling back to return to work on the Monday.

Despite the traffic jams (which can easily be avoided if you plan the time and day of your journey) there is a wonderful holiday atmosphere in the air. You can really get into the French spirit and appreciate the importance of this particular month.  The grandes vacances are just around the corner, starting in July and finishing at the end of August. It has been said that traditionally it was the blue collar workers that went on holiday in the month of July and the white collar workers would take time off in August. Again, you will often see many shops shut for two weeks in these months. This is also a very big deal in France – these holidays are sacred and is a time for families to spend good quality time together.

Contrary to France’s reputation by many – the French are not always on holiday! They work very long hours so very much look forward to their down time. Tradesmen and women are often at their premises at 8 am or 8.30 am ready to start work and continue to do so until lunchtime at midday. There are not numerous tea and coffee breaks. Yes, the lunch hour can be 2 hours but more often than not is, in fact, 1 hour and 30 mins. Work then continues until 5 pm or 6 pm and factoring in a commute, many are not home by 7 pm.  This is a long day.

The students also have some of the longest school days in Europe. If they are in a rural setting, like we are in Normandy, some catch a bus at 7 am in the morning to start lycée to commence lessons at 8 am. The school day will finish at 5.30 pm for many and, again, once taken the bus can arrive home anytime from 6 pm to 7 pm.

Most schools, for all ages, have wrap around child care facilites that open from 7 am to 7 pm in conjunction with the parents working hours. In effect, the children have a school day as long as a working day and for some this is longer than their parents!

This is why the evening meal is later, between 8 pm – 9 pm as this is the time when the whole family can sit together. In comparison with the UK, children will finish school at approximately 3.30 pm and parents can be home before 6 pm. It is not uncommon for the evening meal to start at 5 pm. The rythme is very much different here and it centres around school and working hours.

This year (2024) the May Bank Holidays are as follows.

Wednesday 1 May – Labour Day

Wednesday 8 May – Victoria In Europe Day (VE Day) surprisingly not a Bank Holiday in the UK

Thursday 9 May – Ascension Day – A Christian Day to mark the ascension of Jesus to Heaven.

Monday 20 May – Pentecôte/Whit Monday – A Christian Day to mark the descent of the Holy Spirit onto Jesus’s Disciples which is said to mark the ‘birthday’ of the Christian Church.

The Bank Holiday where you will find everything more or less shut and should come as no surprise is Labour Day/Fête du Travail . However, you will find many major stores open for the two Bank Holidays in the middle of May and less so for the end of the month. You can always check on line to see which stores will be open.

We hope you enjoyed this insight into what you can expect for the month of May and why Bank Holidays are non negotiable in France! Viva La Republic !

Government Website – Bank Holiday’s 2024






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