Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Congé Annuel

The congé annuel is a beautiful thing. As long as you’re not me, trying to take my father on a pastry hunt.

Last summer, my parents visited Luxembourg for the first time. Nick and I whisked them off on a grand tour of the country and the greater region, but, I’m pretty sure it’s safe to say that my dad’s favorite part of the trip was scoping out window after window of colorful, mouth-watering pastries and crusty loaves of bread at the boulangeries and pâtisseries that adorn so many street corners in this part of the world.

(Honestly though, who can blame him?)

Seeing this, I knew there was one window that I had to take him past: Jean-Claude Arens, a pâtisserie and chocolaterie near our apartment that has a window display that knocks my socks off every time I walk past. With a puffed chest, I led my dad around the corner to show him what would surely become his very favorite window of treats in town and… the shades were drawn, the lights were off, and a sign on the window read: Congé Annuel.

This summer my parents returned to Luxembourg and alas, Jean-Claude Arens was closed on congé annuel - annual closing - once again (…though something about the word “annuel” should have tipped me off that they’d be closed during the same two weeks in August again this year).

Sorry, Dad. Maybe next year we’ll plan your summer trip for late July instead?

Anyway, while this was a small disappointment, it didn’t last long because over the last two weeks, my parents, Nick and I went on our own congé annuel to Köln, Germany; Lucerne, Switzerland; Garmisch-Partinkirchen in the Bavarian Alps, to Liechtenstein and back by way of Alsace – and we saw plenty of other windows full of treats along the way.

If you’ve visited Luxembourg in August, you have probably noticed that things are a little less bustling than you might expect. This is because August is a popular vacation month; small businesses reduce their hours or close their doors for a few weeks to give their employees some time off, and offices around the country are quiet as workers take advantage of some of the generous five weeks of vacation time that are mandated by law. (And these five weeks can be taken as early as January 1 each year, provided the employee has worked for at least three months at their company.)

In fact, it seems like everyone takes time off. Even the print version of the free daily French language newspaper L’Essentiel is on annual holiday leave for the month of August.
L'Essentiel, on congé annuel
from August 1-28.

Why August? Well: why not August? Just like in the U.S., August is the last month before students head back to school, so it’s the last chance for a little rest and relaxation before the world starts humming along again in September. And because everybody does it, it’s not a big deal; you won’t find much guilt among European vacationers about being away from their desk, e-mail and voicemail for a week or two, because all of their colleagues do the same thing at one time or another.

The permission to relax and clear one’s head from the stress of the workplace is a wonderful thing. But if you’re heading here on vacation and are depending on a certain pâtisserie, restaurant or specialty shop to be open while you’re in town…you might want to call ahead first.

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