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A Fermata for This Orchestra

23 October 2010 Leave a comment

Finally, I could take a day off. Yes, this past Friday I was able to take an official vacation day from Amadeus and enjoy it among friends visiting from Paris.  It was a beautiful fall day with the sun in full force.  We were able to escape to Italy and explore the small town of Sanremo for a nice meal.  I have to say this vacation day threw me off because I had to keep reminding myself that it is Friday and not a typical Saturday.  I had to remind myself that my colleagues at work were not enjoying this day like I was; things were still active at Sophia-Antipolis in spite of my absence.

But is it really the paradise of vacation, time off and public holidays in France?  Well, yea for the most part. It gives context on why the French are so upset about the recent retirement reform.  They don’t want to loose a good thing.  At the same time there is reality.  Now that I took my first official holiday, I also discovered the fine print of this country.

When Is the Next Public Holiday?

When Is the Next Public Holiday?

Public Holidays: France has more public holidays than the States but are more strict about them.  You only get the holiday if the calendar puts it on a weekday.  If the holiday lands on a weekend, well you are out of luck!  Kiss it good-bye.  The French don’t do the courtesy of giving you that corresponding Friday or Monday in place of the holiday.  It is hitting hard this December as both Christmas and New Year’s land on a Saturday.  Consequently, Amadeus is open for business all five days of all four weeks for the month.  No freebies of a holiday.

Réduction du temps de travail (RTT): Being that the law of the land is a worker is limited to working only 35 hours, a company has to compensate for the fact they are putting in a typical 40 hours work week.  Such is the case at Amadeus where we are expected to be in the office for 40 hours.  The policy at Amadeus is to give everyone this allotment of time at the same time in May, every year.  Unfortunately for me, since my first day on the job was June 1st I have to wait till May 2011 for the next cycle.  This calculation of time is based also on the calendar and varies each year according to the government.  Usually it amounts to another week off.

A Gift from Your American Boss

A Gift from Your American Boss

In addition of course is the general vacation time granted by your employer.  Consequently I have no room to complain.  As one sits on a beach along the sea, there is an opportunity to reflect if the States could ever provide appropriate vacation for the health of their workers.  My colleague Michael Barrett provided a scary posting and graphic of the situation in the States compared to the rest of the world.  His graphic demonstrates that by law, employers are not enforced to give their employees a single day off.  We are one of the richest countries on this planet and we cannot guarantee ourselves the right to have time off?  In addition, the graphic shows the baseline of guaranteed time off where many employers add more time to be attractive to good talent.  You will also see that France is not at the top either, there are other European countries that guarantee more.  So why don’t Americans the go on strike demanding more time for a Grand Pause?  One journalist purposes basic fear as the answer; it is too easy to fire someone in the States and most are happy to just keep their job. 😦

Categories: Everyday Life

The Plane Without a Destination

17 October 2010 Leave a comment

Ever been up in the air and not know where you are going? Well I was in that state this weekend.

I was quite excited this weekend.  It was going to be my first true weekend excursion since arriving in the Côte d’Azur.  I had a dear and close friend of mine coming into Paris for his birthday weekend.  He had asked me to come see him but I publicly declined the offer.  Yet secretly I bought an Air France ticket to Paris in order to surprise him.  I can’t fully explain the feeling of having Paris so close.  It is similar to going to Pittsburgh from Philly back in the States.  There is a low-cost airline, Easy Jet, that does Paris-Nice route keeping the price of the tickets low and affordable.  The route isn’t long as you are in Paris in little over an hour.  Consequently doing a weekend run of leaving Friday night and returning Sunday evening is very feasible.  Paris truly has something in the air that energizes you and I believe I so needed this escape to be re-energized.

Within this oasis is a little dirty water. The strikes on the retirement reform in this country are still occurring.  The unions have demanded for continuous and sporadic striking instead of just one unified day of it.  I felt the sting of a French strike on my Friday night flight to Paris.

 

New meaning to an open-ended ticket . . .

New meaning to an open-ended ticket . . .

 

I got home from work, quickly changed clothes, hoped the #23 bus and zoomed to the airport full of an adrenaline rush.  Once I reach Terminal 2 of the Nice Côte d’Azur Airport, I went straight for the security line as I had already printed my boarding pass at work.  Paris was so much on my mind that it did not register that the ticketing lines were abnormally long for a Friday evening.  I was too excited to be surprising my friend in a few hours.  After getting through security (which is breeze compared to what American airports demand of you) I looked at the monitor for my gate number.  The keyword annulé was all over the place followed by the word en retard.  The air traffic controllers in Paris were at it again and not letting anyone land in the airports.  Flights were either cancelled or delayed.  I lucked out because my flight was still scheduled to leave as the vast majority of the Paris bound passengers needed to be rerouted, hence why the ticketing lines outside were so long.  My plane was scheduled to leave at 8:00 p.m. sharp but was listed not to leave till 9:25 to then only get delayed further to 10:10.  Sitting there at the airport eating my vacuum sealed chicken rôti sandwich, my spirits were slightly dampened.  It was clear that I would not see my friend to surprise him that night.  My presence to him will have to be postponed to the following morning.  Not the end of the world.

Finally, 10:10 approaches and everyone is hovering around the gate in order to make this flight happen.  Then right as the attendant announces boarding for the flight, she makes it clear we are going to Charles de Gaulle.  Everyone paused with a slight expression of being dumbfounded.  Our boarding passes clearly state Paris Orly, the other Parisian airport.  It was clear if we wanted to get to Paris tonight, we had to adjust and go to CDG, Orly wasn’t taking any more planes.  sigh.  Well, okay let’s go!  It was amazing of the French reaction to all this disruption – they were surprisingly cool and calm about it.  They weren’t happy but they weren’t viscerally agitated either.  These strikes are supported in theory by the majority of the population but the French are smart enough to recognize that something needs to be done.  Everyone is taking this moment in French history in stride.  We board the plane and the pilot promptly reminded everyone to be respectful to the staff because they weren’t the ones on strike.  In any case, shortly after take-off the pilot makes another announcement that we are now back on route to Orly, a change in direction.  Several passengers applauded.  In the midst of distributing beverages among the cabin, the pilot came back over the intercom and concluded that we are rerouted back to CDG, not Orly.  It wasn’t till the beginning of our descend that pilot announced with conviction that we will be arriving in Orly as scheduled.  Again, more applause.  In spite of my record of traveling sagas, I have never been on a place that did not know where it was going like this one.  Finally I was curbside and hailing a taxi at 12:30 a.m., 3 hours overdue.

To make this epic a short story, the rest of the weekend was terrific!  I surprised one friend, saw another old friend, dined with new friends and said rebonjour to my friend Paris.  Surprisingly my flight back to Nice was uneventful.  I am home safe and sound and still smiling.

So when is this strike going to end? I am not sure but the big talk everywhere is the potential fuel storage.  The unions have taken French refineries hostage and the French police are having to get involved to release the trucks.  The CDG airport claims it only has enough fuel for the planes through the end of this week.  The Orly airport is in better shape projecting it has enough to last several more weeks.  If you want further information I encourage you to check out Michael Barrett’s blog for the informative BBC article in English.

So tonight I will sleep in my bed still smiling. You could say it is because of seeing wonderful friends.  You could say it is because of Paris.  You could say it is because of good food and wine.  But you are better of saying it is because I will be getting in a car tomorrow where I am in full control of my destination . . . with a full tank of petrol!

Categories: Everyday Life, Travels

I Have Had Enough!

5 October 2010 4 comments

Have I had enough of really good bread? Not at all. Have I had enough of the French mentality?  Not yet. Have I had enough of France?  Hell no!  Are you crazy? But I will tell you what I have had enough of . . . French weddings.  Instinctively your acute mind will ask but how many weddings have you gone to? None.  But before you put on that puzzled look, you have to re-phrase the question.  How many weddings have come to you? Too many! I declare.  Too many.  So many that I can’t take a nap anymore.

Ok, most of you know me as an urban boy mysteriously born of pastoral roots.  You also know that cities come with trash, dog poo, crowds and most importantly noise.  French cities are no exception to this rule.  In my apartment I have to acoustic pleasure of the following:

  • From the terrace:  the 30+ Air France flights taking off to Paris daily plus all the other international flights plus all the private jets of the filthy rich approaching Côte d’Azur International.
  • From the front window: the SNCF trains routinely carrying passengers off to Marseille plus the freight trains pulling in at the wee hours of the morning.
  • From my bedroom: the roar of the traffic along the famous promenade making my view of the ocean a silent movie.
The Agony of a French Wedding

The Agony of a French Wedding

Do I mind all this noise?  Not really. I have become use (numb) to it all.  It reminds me that we are all still alive and busy doing something.  In addition I can easily fade away to deep sleep with all this acoustic simulation.  Yet what does disrupt my quiet life are these wedding caravans.  It is a line of cars after the wedding parading around to the expected reception.  During this journey, all the cars just blare into their horns repeatedly like an automatic handgun.  They come out of no where like a swarm of bees.  This time of year most be peak season for weddings.  Back in July I heard this phenomenon for the first time and . . . I thought it was cute.  Oh look what the French do to celebrate a wedding! August died down because it is vacation season and if you had a wedding no one would show.  Now weddings are in full bloom.  I swear every 30 minutes another swarm of these blaring caravans arrive.  I believe I am getting hit hard because I am by the Promenade des Anglais and all the wedding couples want a view of sea.  I am really at a quandary of what to do with these . . . . people.

So you think I am all talk and a wimp? I happen to do a search on YouTube and sure enough, I have a video clip entitled French Wedding Nuisance .  So I dare you to click on the link and hear for yourself what I am living through.  The agony. It really can make you go for another slice of bread with brie and a glass of red wine.

I am not the only one getting frustrated. The States has done something again to agitate its allies of the European persuasion.  The US recently implemented a new tax on European travelers arriving at American borders.   What is this tax funding?  Advertising and marketing to further promote the USA as a great place to vacation.  So you are going to tax the guy who is arriving on vacation so that you can tell the other guy to come here on vacation? Interesting concept.  The European Union is now considering a similar tax on any American tourist arriving here.  Touché! Not sure why the US needs to worry about such tourism concerns now.  Current tourism indexes are putting the US as the #2 destination of choice and the most profitable [see Michael Barrett’s blog].  Oh, and who would be #1? I’m glad you asked, it is France.  Yes a tiny country slightly smaller than Texas attracts the most visitors each year. 🙂 I have heard on several occasions intense conversations on the variation of the French countryside.  Each region of France is truly unique and has its own identity.  I hope to fully explore these many faces myself in the near future.  Ironically this information sounds a little too familiar as if it is the . . . United States perhaps?  So what’s France’s edge? Probably sheer size as you don’t have to drive hours and hours to see another landscape.  A quick run down the autoroute in France and you are in a different world.  Plus you can’t forget the fact that France is simply older. 😉

Excuse me as I go shut my window, another wedding is coming . . . .

Categories: Everyday Life