They may make fun in Britain of the Frenchmanís weakness for leisure by coining a phrase like " French leave ", but the French are not bothered. In France, holidaying is serious business and it is being taken more seriously these days. From the year 2000, Frenchmen will have to work less as legislation will be adopted to reduce the working week from 39 hours to 35.

Since 1936, working time in France has steadily declined. Earlier, only upper classes enjoyed holidays, and the idea of being paid not to work was considered to be odd. Now it is regarded as not merely a birthright but a social obligation to make the most of holidays. Shops, cafes and restaurants close down in August, to reopen in September, and Frenchmen move out in droves to see a bit of the world.

It has been calculated that once the 35-hour week comes into force, the average Frenchman will be working at least 12 years less in his lifetime than his counterpart in the United States. The British have longer holidays than the Americans but longer working hours than in France, and along with Japan, they are in the workaholic club. The French, according to a recent survey, perceive this as a proof of the " essentially uncivilised " nature of the Anglo-saxons. The obsession with work makes them, the French believe, prone to tension and consequently, hard to talk to and unimpressive in bed.

The criticism from either side is only to be expected, because the Anglo-saxons have never quite approved the ebullient, easy-going nature of those across the Channel while the French have always had a poor opinion of the seriousness with which Anglo-saxons seem to treat life. Also, The French like to think they are a notch higher when it comes to love and romance. For all one knows, they may be right. " The French are wiser than they seem Ö ", Francis Bacon had said.

However, knowing how to relax is an art. Those obsessed with production, productivity and manhours are not always good at it, and often feel lost when confronted with leisure. The French know the art.

The Times of India, August 20, 1998

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