Rest and leisure French style

Written by Adrien Wing

In preparation to be a guest blogger, I read all the previous posts as I felt out of the loop. I am now living half of the year outside the United States. In the spring, I am director of the London Law Consortium, a group of seven law schools holding classes and activities in the heart of the city. In May and June, I am director of the University of Iowa College of Law’s summer program in Arcachon, France, and then I take the students to the Middle East.

I always feel culture shock upon returning to the US, even though I have been an international and comparative law person for 28 years, 23 as a professor teaching international human rights and Law in the Muslim world.  I also teach US subjects like Critical Race Theory and US Constitutional Law.  I basically consider almost everything I do human rights, just some is in the US and some abroad.

What is most interesting to me in the blogging so far and in the progressive justice community generally, is the lack of global contextualization for most of what happens in the US in many instances. I know it’s hard enough to become expert and stay up to date on even minor aspects of our fields in the US. Yet, I have found that getting comparative angles actually enhances my understanding of the possibilities to consider here, whether currently or in the future. Even if we ultimately reject these options, it teaches us something more about ourselves and our society.  

We could learn a lot on every issue that we consider from criminal justice to immigration to poverty to health care to rest and leisure.  For example, with respect to the latter issue, summer is a good time to think about the nature of vacations and time off.  Believe it or not, rest and leisure is an international human right that can be found in ICESCR, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, a 1967 treaty that the US has signed, but not yet ratified.  In France, where I have been based eleven summers, I have found that people have an entirely different attitude toward rest and leisure.   What could such a fuzzy “right” mean in a relatively globally privileged country like France, which has ratified ICESCR?? Rest and leisure actually has various concrete applications in their national context. Employees are entitled to five paid vacation weeks a year, plus holidays. (As you might imagine, self-employed lawyers are not employees). I would characterize their national attitude (with some exceptions) as they work to live, rather than live to work. There is a 35 hour work week for employees. They are fighting to keep the age 60 retirement age. They view a two hour dinner or longer as natural, rather than trying to get out in under an hour. Many resist or look down on the McDonalds fast food invasion. As a workaholic myself, I try to slow down every year when I am in France.  What would be the legal, economic, and social implications here if all employees had even a guaranteed TWO week vacation?