Monday, 29 November 2010

A sense of history

Aside from being known as, in the words of Grounds Keeper Willey, "Cheese Eating Surrender Monkeys," the French also have a considerable reputation for sloth. Not only do they insist on an extraordinary amount of time off for vacation (or extraordinary for Americans, who get practically none), not only do they tend to take long lunches, not only do they retire rather early, but their work week capped at 35 hours! Unheard of, in the United States, to be sure.

Without discussion of the economic benefits and costs of such behaviour, there might be a good historical explanation for the French national attitude towards work. Such ethic might be explained by the fact that up until the mid 19th century, the rural French spent much of their time hibernating. Oh, it isn't true hibernation - it doesn't even qualify as torpor - but the French seemed to spend much of their time napping away the winter. Consider this:

But the French seem to have been particularly sleepy. They "hibernated" even in temperate zones. In Burgundy, after the wine harvest, the workers burned the vine stocks, repaired their tools and left the land to the wolves. A civil servant who investigated the region's economic activity in 1844 found that he was almost the only living presence in the landscape: "These vigorous men will now spend their days in bed, packing their bodies tightly together in order to stay warm and to eat less food. They weaken themselves deliberately."
When put like that, I have a hard time finding fault with the French work week. After all, they're just keeping a proud French tradition alive. There are some downsides to sleeping the winter away, however. Recent evidence points to increases in sleep being related to decreases in life expectancy. The magic number is 'less than eight hours,' it seems. Which is a shame, because I like to get 9 hours of rest. Clearly, I'll need to change that habit...

Interestingly, despite the fact that France seems to work so little, they command a respectable per-capita GDP. Obviously, it hasn't torpedoed their economy that badly. And that's a 35 hours work week before you take away all the non-work spend striking.

1 comment:

Alaskan Dave Down Under said...

Just wait till I tell you about the Aussie holiday schedule this year mate.

BTW. I posted! Does that make you happy? Do you have to change your underpants now?

It's just my usual inane drivel, but some folks think it's entertaining.