Contrary to many North American assumptions, France - according to wealth produced per hour worked - is one of the most productive countries in Europe. Labor is expensive in France, so industries are extremely mechanized. The French would be even richer if they limited their paid holidays to two weeks, but they look at the problem differently. If fewer people are necessary to produce the same wealth, they reason, then why not translate that wealth into more holidays? As many of our French friends remarked, whether holidays are good or bad for the economy is beside the point: "The economy is supposed to work for us, not the other way around!"
The French also have a very distinct work ethic. They pretend they're not busy even when they're working like crazy.
"To us, looking relaxed shows you're in control," a friend explained. Hence, long leisurely lunches at cafes. Make no mistake: They're working hard, they just don't have stigmas about taking their time and looking relaxed in public.
Although 98 percent of the French lead urban lifestyles, they vacation in the countryside. This injection of capital helps preserve ancient ways of life in barely productive rural areas - a major reason French regional cuisine continues to flourish.
American vacations, often childlike exercises in canned environments like Disney World, preserve nothing at all — except media monoliths and vested corporate interests in the copyright on the damn Mouse.
Oddly enough, it is Dubya who most resembles the French in that he takes the whole month of August off every year (excluding fundraising excursions), something that the workers who empower his corporatocracy are simple unable to do. (How else could he have missed those ominous August 2001 intelligence warnings that something big and awful was on its way? He was busy not riding nonexistent horses on his Crawford ranch.)
We Americans are sacrificing our regional cuisines and cultures to corporations whose interests do not overlap with our own. The relatively mature French society manages to put its own heritage and lifestyle above the commercial agenda, something that the adolescent American society has not yet figured out for itself.