(l-r) Sarah and Patrick Blau pursuing happiness in France. (MP Photo/Patrick Blau) (left) The Statue of Liberty gifted to the United States from the people of France and dedicated on Oct. 28, 1886.
By Patrick Blau
The year was 1982. Gary U.S. Bonds was on the radio singing to the whole United States of America, ’’I’m unemployed, I’m out of work,’’ and the song climbed the pop charts. The Dow Jones Industrials ended the year just barely above 1000. A gallon of gas cost 90 cents. To buy a postage stamp would set you back 20 cents, and a loaf of bread 50 cents. The first issue of USA Today was published. People were dying in Chicago from cyanide-laced Tylenol, jokingly renamed ‘End-It-All’ by those of us too naive to fully realize the gravity of the situation. Unemployment stood at about 10 percent, the high point of the recession during the early 80s. Even though unemployment fell every year after that until 1991, in 1982 there were still some hard times. Full of promise and hope, but hard times nonetheless. Whether you liked the man and his politics or not, the economic policies of then President Ronald Reagan were beginning to take effect. The future looked bright, felt positive, and American pride was beginning to come into full bloom.
The average hourly wage for all of America at the time was $8. For comparisons sake, today it stands at about $24.
The average number of guaranteed paid vacation days for private sector workers (pay attention to the word ‘guaranteed’) in 1982: 0. That’s right; zero. Zilch. Big, fat old goose egg. Today, in the brave new world of 2015, the number of guaranteed vacation days for the majority of workers in America: 0. Yep. Still zilch. Same fat old goose egg.
Here in France, and in the European Union in general, America is known as ‘’The No-Vacation Nation.’’ Up until the time when I moved to France I had worked in the private manufaturing sector of America for close to 30 years, receiving various sorts of paid vacation packages from my employers. Not because they had to, no; but because they chose to. Remember that word, ‘guaranteed’? There are no ‘guaranteed’ paid days off for private sector workers in America. If you work for an employer that gives you paid holidays off, even paid vacations, count your blessings and thank God for their generosity. Work well for them and they will make it worth your while. Understand that nothing in life can ever be truly guaranteed, except death and taxes. Thank you, Benjamin Franklin.
In my mind I think this policy is part of what has made America great. In America there is a freedom to choose and work towards your own financial destiny. You can choose to work for an employer who doesn’t pay you squat, who creates a culture of absolutely no paid days off, and who doesn’t reward those that work smarter; that is your right as an American. Each and every American is born with the right to choose stupidity. You can also exercise your American right to leave Grinch Company and apply to work at You Are Valued Incorporated, which gives you paid holidays, a graduated paid vacation program, performance-based raises, and maybe even incentive bonus programs. These are the plum places, the places to stay at, work hard for and retire from. Eventually Grinch Company loses all it’s employees to You Are Valuable Incorporated, and the free market system of America scores a victory for it’s workers. You can work for You Are Valuable Incorporated until it’s time to collect social security, sure; but you have to EARN that privilege. You have to prove that you create more wealth for YAV Inc. than you take out of it in the form of your paycheck. If you can prove that on a consistent basis, congratulations, you’re a real grown up now. Enjoy the perks and rewards that come with that.
And this, again to my mind, is another part of the reason why America has been and can be great. There are other countries with many more residents, more land, more government handouts. But the value of the hard-working American leaves every single one of them lacking by comparison. Pay attention to the words ‘hard working’, though. That’s one of the keys to a great America. Valueless workers haven’t earned a thing for America. They take from America, for sure; but they don’t give to America at all. The Soup Nazi would say to them,’’No paid days off for you!’’ And that statement, Valueless Worker, is the one thing that you will have earned. Valuable Worker will be glad to take your paid vacation days for you.
Beginning in 1982, all workers in France, both public and private, valuable and valueless, were guaranteed five weeks paid vacation. Seriously. The mandatory policy has remained in effect since then. Stay at your French job one year, and you too will have five weeks of paid vacation at your disposal plus an additional 11 days off for various government holidays and Roman Catholic holy days, for a grand total of 31 working days off per year, every year, no matter what. And it can even go higher than that; at one point in her career my wife, Sarah, had 11 weeks of paid vacation per year, plus the additional 11 holidays for a total of 66 paid days off per year. Pretty good, huh? Doesn’t get better’n that, does it? Sounds like Miller time to me; how ‘bout you? The paid days off are very cool, having that time to relax and explore and hang with the family is a great thing; there is no denying that. But France doesn’t have the world’s biggest economy. No country in the whole European Union has the world’s biggest economy.
When measured by a per capita yard stick, The United States of America has far and away the largest economy in the world. France is a great place to live, similar in many ways to the United States. France has an excellent quality of life, with endearing characteristics so that it becomes attractive to adventurous Americans such as myself. The United States presents an excellent quality of life for it’s citizens, also. To persue. Not to be given, not to reach out a hand for, not to feel entitled to; but to persue by the strength of one’s mind and/or the callouses on one’s hands. That is part of what made America great. That is part of what America needs to rediscover within itself.
Let me just end by saying that with all of the news that has been generated by the recent violence in Paris, perhaps we can use this time to rededicate ourselves to the honest persuit of happiness. It doesn’t matter where you are or how much vacation you do or don’t have available to you; happiness can be found wherever and whenever you choose to find it. We can’t permit those who attempt to take away happiness by using cowardly acts of terror to win. This too is part of what has made America great in the past.
As France deals with the ramifications from the acts of a soulless few, may we never forget those who have fought against the forces of evil before us, and won. I have said it before and I say it again now: May God bless America, and Vive la France!
Patrick Blau was born and raised in northeast Ohio. For the past six years, he lived and worked in Burton/Middlefield along with his daughter, McKenzie and his son, Kevin, until he recently moved to France and married his wife, Sarah. Patrick and Sarah currently live in Septfonds, a Burton-like village in southern France.