Category Archives: Family Life

Work-Life Balance France vs USA

As I watched my husband regularly working from his laptop at night and as I found myself putting in a few hours from home on Sundays, I began to wonder: why do we as Americans work so much? Here in Silicon Valley, salaries are surely higher, but this comes with living in an area with million dollar homes on every block that average people can’t afford to buy. So what are we working towards? Can money buy happiness, or is it time off that provides us with this luxury? Let’s compare numbers with our French counterparts:

Déjeuner français/French lunch break. Photo credit: todaywecook.fr

Déjeuner français/French lunch break. Photo credit: todaywecook.fr

In France, the average employee enjoys 35 hour work weeks, leisurely 1-2 hour lunches, 6 weeks of paid vacation and laws protecting employees from working after-hours or on Sundays. French women benefit from at least 16 weeks (26 weeks for a third child) paid maternity leave at 100% pay. Currently, fathers get 2 weeks paternity leave, but French president François Hollande recently pushed to move that to 6 months.

American lunch. Photo credit: abcnews.go.com

American lunch. Photo credit: abcnews.go.com

In the US, the average workweek is 47 hours, lunch is often eaten in front of the computer screen, employees are lucky to get 2 weeks off and are often expected to be available to work on nights and weekends. Except for 4 states, Americans are offered no guaranteed paid parental leave, although we do have the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) which provides 12 weeks unpaid, job-protected leave for family and medical reasons.

Parental Leave Around the World. Photo credit: huffingtonpost.com

Parental Leave Around the World. Photo credit: huffingtonpost.com

With the French provided with more time to spend with family and friends and to relax on their own, it would seem to me that one is better off living in the Hexagon. But why this imbalance? Why is the quality of life and the balance between work and private life protected so much more in France and other European countries than it is in the US?

Les Vacances à la française/French Vacation. Photo credit: radiovl.fr

Les Vacances à la française/French Vacation. Photo credit: radiovl.fr

For one thing, there is much less worker protection in the US, with the possible exception of discrimination laws. Here, one can be hired and fired from one day to the next. In France, you have a 2 to 4 month trial period for hiring someone, and the laws on firing someone are fairly complex. As the second richest country in the world (congratulations, China), it’s clear that the US has devoted itself to the dollar at all costs.

What the US government and American companies haven’t figured out yet is that working longer hours isn’t making us more productive. US workers are often more stressed out and less healthy than our European counterparts. Without as much paid time off, parental leave, affordable childcare or worker protection laws, we Americans are left to fend for ourselves instead of benefitting from social programs and time to unwind that would help to keep us satisfied and productive both in the workplace and in life.

For more information on holiday working hours around the world, check out this article at findmyshift.com.

Qu’en pensez-vous? What do you think? Will the US ever take a hint from France that balanced workers are more productive workers?

© Jessica’s Franglais 2015

Passing Down French in the Family: Merci Grand-mère

Evelyn (Evridiki) Pasa, Greek passport photo 1951, 22 years old

Frère Jacques

Frère Jacques, Frère Jacques

Dormez-vous? Dormez-vous?

Sonnez les matines, sonnez les matines

Ding-dang-dong, ding-dang-dong

Are you sleeping, are you sleeping,

Brother John, brother John?

Morning bells are ringing, morning bells are ringing

Ding-dang-dong, ding-dang-dong

This is the first song my grandma taught me when I was a little girl. I memorized the sounds, but I had no idea what I was saying. I grew up in California speaking English with American parents, but my paternal grandparents spoke French. My grandmother was born to Greek parents in Casablanca, Morocco, which was at the time a French colony. I’m sure my grandmother learned this song from her mother, and now she was passing it down to me.

I speak French now, but only because I learned it in high school. My grandparents stopped speaking French with their children (my father and his brothers) early on because the teachers told them it would interfere with their ability to learn English. I can hear the language teachers groaning (including me) because in fact, quite the opposite is true. As we now know, speaking more than one language has many cognitive benefits, including better problem solving and listening skills, an increased ability to focus and delaying the onset of dementia.

Once my grandparents found out I had decided to take French (the only person in my family, by the way) they simultaneously launched into explanations of feminine and masculine articles while perusing through my entire textbook. I was intimidated at first, but I stuck with French throughout all four years of high school, and then college (eventually switching over to French from an English major once I decided to be honest with myself), studying abroad in Toulouse, getting a masters degree in French, living for a year in Paris and finally teaching French to adults and high school students.

la fameuse tarte aux pommes à l'américaine/Grandma's famous apple pie

La fameuse tarte aux pommes à l’américaine/Grandma’s famous apple pie

Each visit to my grandparents inevitably involved making a giant apple pie with apples from the tree in their yard. In between peeling apples for the pie and my grandmother telling her favorite stories about me as a small child running around naked (that one never gets old), my grandparents and I would speak in French and no one else would understand us (well, they might have caught a few words). I think it’s safe to say that they were proud of me, and it all started with a simple song: Frère Jacques.

Mes grands-parents

Mes grands-parents

 

Evelyn (Evridiki) Pasa, August 5, 1929- March 23, 2015

Merci Grand-mère. Tu me manques beaucoup. Thank you Grandma. I miss you so much.

© 2015 Jessica’s Franglais

France vs. USA: Working Parents

Featured image: change.org

Like many women, I would like to start a family some day. However, it’s difficult for me to reconcile the idea of caring for a baby and working at the same time. I’m sure there are many other women and men who share these concerns. Having spent time living in both France and the US, I couldn’t help but compare the two systems in terms of support offered to working parents.

This article from the Huffington Post by Emily Peck delves into the question of why it’s better to be a working parent in France than in the US. It points out that while in France, the percentage of mothers in the workforce has steadily increased from 72% back in 1990 to nearly 84% in 2013, in the US that figure has stagnated at 74%. This means that there has been absolutely no increase in mothers in the labor market in the US for nearly 15 years. This is quite awful. Why is this happening?

Graph from The Huffington Post

Graph from The Huffington Post

The first policy we can address is maternity leave. In France, there are 16 weeks guaranteed paid maternity leave (26 weeks for a third child) and 14 days paternity leave (this last part could be better). In the US, we have 12 unpaid weeks. Some states now support partial paid leave, but it simply isn’t enough. How are families that now have to support an additional child supposed to handle this loss of income at a time when they need it most?

The next issue is childcare. In the US, it is expensive and there is no guarantee of quality when it comes to who is caring for your child, how they are caring for them or what they are feeding them. In France, the government subsidizes childcare and nurseries, which can begin for babies as young as 3 months old. There are national standards for the facilities as well as their employees. The children are served nutritious, balanced lunches and the staff helps to potty train toddlers at the age of 2. For more information on childcare in France, click here. If you are interested in this subject, you’ve most likely already read Pamela Druckerman‘s books as well.

So if we aren’t ready to exchange our bagels for baguettes and move to France to raise our children, what are we to do? David Hanrahan of change.org calls for American businesses to close the gap (read his article here):

As we at change.org announce 18 weeks of fully-paid leave for all parents, the challenge to other U.S. companies is this: business leaders should step up and offer paid parental leave — for all parents — at least at the FMLA minimum of 12 weeks.”

You can email him at changeleave@change.org

You can also sign the petition to pass the Family act to guarantee paid leave to working Americans.

What else can we do to ensure that all working Americans are guaranteed paid family leave?

What has been your experience in France or the US as a working (or not working) parent?

We can’t expect this situation to change unless we all come together and do something.

Please feel free to leave a comment.

© Jessica’s Franglais 2015