Life in Paris: What it means to "Faire le pont"

The kids went back to school this week after their two week spring break. They typically get two weeks off every 6-8 weeks, which means breaks in October, December, February, and April. It may seem like a lot of time off, but it's a great way for both students and teachers to take a breather, get caught up, and start again refreshed. It also affords us a chance to travel more frequently. However, despite just returning from a two week break, students in Paris are only back to school for three days before heading into a four day weekend.

Actually, the national holiday falls on the Thursday, for Ascension. Friday technically should be just a regular day, where everyone's schedule goes back to normal. This is where the French tradition of "faire le pont" or "make the bridge" comes into play. If a holiday lands on a Thursday or a Tuesday, the French simply take off the Friday or the Monday to "make the bridge" between the holiday and the weekend. In North America, this would be frowned upon. Not so in France. Instead, it's the expectation.

Don't believe me? My boys attend a local public school, and the week before the school holidays a sign went up on the bulletin board informing parents that as a result of the holiday on Thursday, May 5th, the school would be closed and the after school program would not run on Friday, May 6th either. Friday is not a P.A. Day. Not a statutory holiday. Not any kind of holiday. Just the perfect opportunity to enjoy an extra long weekend.

While I was surprised, the French parents around me glanced at the sign and gave a small shrug as if to say, Of course it will be closed. Who would be sending their children on the Friday? (Raises hand ever so slightly.) Now I know better. No one seemed put out or surprised. Instead, conversation turned to what plans people were making for the long weekend. So, rather than be left out, my husband and I decided to make some plans ourselves.

My husband booked off Friday from work and we reserved a cottage on a campground about 40 minutes outside of Paris. We picked a place with a covered, heated pool that can be used regardless of the weather, and that has several activities onsite for the children. The plan is to spend four days relaxing as a family, surrounded by nature and far from the hustle and bustle of the city. Hopefully it will be a nice break before they head into the last stretch of school before the summer holidays.

I'll be writing about the campground and our experience there, as well as providing some other options for camping in the Paris area, so be sure to check back for that shortly.