En mai, fais ce qu’il te plaît

“In May, do as you please.”

Of all the weather-related French proverbs, this one is my favourite. It is perfectly aligned with the beginning of the month that kicks off the holiday season. What I love most about May is that it starts the way it intends to continue.

May 1st is a public holiday in France. as we celebrate Labour Day by doing…

Nothing. What better way to honour work than by avoiding it? Seriously, since I first posted my critique about May day or the ‘Fête du Travail’ (faites du travail!), my sentiments have changed somewhat. Now I gratefully accept every holiday on offer and enjoy every minute of it.

So I’m going to do as I please today. Mostly.

It is still a little cool to be out on the lake with my paddle, but in just a few short weeks the weather should be warm enough to dip our toes in.

Today will start with a yoga class with friends and then we’ll head down to our favourite restaurant by the water and – hopefully – sit in the sun on the terrace as we eat the season’s first ‘filets de perches’ from Lake Geneva.

Then I’ll come back home and do a bit of work as, sadly, my clients on the Swiss side are too industrious to celebrate Labour Day.

Do you celebrate the first of May? What’s your preferred way to spend it?

May Day!

muguet-2008-galerie-membrefleur-muguetmuguet-du-jardin-1er-mai-dscn5543On May 1st, France celebrates Labour Day by not working.

We’re not the only ones – International Labour Day is celebrated on this day throughout Europe and around the world. But la Fête du Travail, as it’s called here, brings several thoughts to my mind:

First, the word ‘travail’ in old French means suffering and torment. While not often used in English it still has connotations of painful ordeal, as in the travails of labour and childbirth. This may explain something about the way work is perceived in France.

Second, what’s to celebrate?

We have a Socialist government, more paid days off than just about any other nation (the Germans beat us by a couple of days, yet somehow manage to remain productive), and one of the highest charged-salary costs in the world. Yet we spend more time and energy sentimentalizing about the history of workers and unions and days of glory past than we do getting down to it.

So here’s a thought: instead of Fête du Travail, how about we rename this holiday, “Faites du travail.” Same sound, different meaning. “Do some work day” would be much more appropriate and timely in the current economic context.

Don’t get me wrong. I like my holidays and long weekends as much as anyone, but seriously folks, if somebody doesn’t get to work pretty soon we are going down with Greece.

Okay, that’s my rant. Now for the sweeter side of May 1st in France.

May day, as the holiday has been traditionally called throughout the centuries, is also a day to herald the coming of spring.

It is traditional to offer a sprig of muguet, or lily of the valley, on the first day of May. The plant grows wild in various parts of the country and especially in Ile de France, the region surrounding Paris. This delicate white flower is sold on the streets by just about anyone who can find some (the government officially allows individuals and associations to sell it without paying sales tax on this day).

The sweet-smelling, delicate flower of the muguet is also poisonous. Hmm. Looks pretty, smells sweet. But can be toxic. Perhaps it’s an appropriate symbol for la Fête du Travail.