May Day!

May 1st is both the Fete du Travail (Labor Day) and the Fete du Muguet (Lily of the Valley Day). The latter is a spring celebration dating back to the Middle Ages. Flowers were given by men to women they liked as a form of spring courtship. The Labor Day part of the holiday started much later–and was inspired by events in the US. In the late 1800s, Chicago workers rallied for an 8-hour workday. Not long after, French counterparts fought for the same thing. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. Despite France’s 35-hour work week and 5 weeks of paid vacation mandated by the state for salaried employees, France recently found that emailing and texting for work during “off” hours is a growing problem. The French may have a rep for being lazy and inefficient (aren’t we all, at times?) but the tough economy means that the shrinking number of people with full-time work need to do the jobs of many people. For every French person I know who has abused unemployment benefits and other hand-outs, I also know someone who is hugely overworked in a job that pays much less than it would in the US. (The need for work is, in part, why you will see people selling those flower bunches after today, even though the government only allows it on May Day itself.)

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