Vacations and Holidays in Switzerland and America

Americans as well as Swiss love their vacations. Destinations and “exotic” status differ depending on where you live. The real difference though, is how many days of paid vacation you get.

Majorca, an Exotic Destination?

Ben’s father worked in the travel industry. Very often he travelled around the globe to check the destinations and their hotels. In the 1960s Majorca was still somewhat exotic. It hadn’t morphed into the “little Germany” it is today. Early one Sunday morning in 1966, Ben’s dad woke the family and said they were going to take an excursion. They all got into the car and drove to the airport. There they got on a plane and a couple of hours later they got off in Majorca! The family enjoyed the water and beach. After a whole day romping in the Spanish sun, the family returned home getting there around 3 in the morning. Not bad, but the kids had to go to school the next day.

Ben’s teacher couldn’t believe her ears when he told his elementary school class of their Sunday excursion. She was “old school” and believed a bike was really the best way to get anywhere. You can only imagine what she thought about flying to another country for a day.

Since then much has changed in the travel industry and Majorca. It has become a second home for anyone who speaks German. The Swiss sometimes call it the “cleaning woman’s island” because even the lowest paid people can afford it. It has long lost any air it had of being exotic. Ben and I have been there a couple of times since we’ve been married. It was nice but in my books it’s a “Been there, seen that” kind of place. Sort of like the quiet of Florida during Spring break, only the whole year around.

We did a double take when an American friend told us she had never been to those exotic Spanish islands. Majorca, exotic, really?

Vacation days

Once you choose your destination you ideally use your paid vacation and decide how long. This is where the Swiss/American differences really diverge.

In America

In America I believe government employees are guaranteed 10 days paid vacation per year. The private sector vacations are neither regulated nor guaranteed. Normally you get 6 – 10 vacation days. The longer you work somewhere the more vacation days you get. I’ve also heard that often Americans will not take all their vacation days. That way their employer can see how dedicated they are to their jobs. Which might get them more pay or other job perks.

On the other hand, some people want more days than they are allotted. These people get creative. I’ve seen friends take “sick days” when they weren’t sick and go to an amusement park or something like that. Hmm, we did have fun that day… That seems to be tolerated, almost like an open secret.

Another way of getting more days in a row it to do what my father did. My dad took all of his vacation days at the end of one year. The following year he took all of his vacation days at the beginning of the year. That way my parents were able to come to Europe for a reasonable length of time. Coming only 7 days doesn’t make the break; you barely get over your jetlag and it’s time to go home. We had friends do that once. The husband had to work on the morning they flew over. The day after they got back home he had to work again. That’s cutting it close. That made for a rather hurried vacation for them.

In Switzerland

Vacation days in Switzerland are sacred. They are thought of as a basic right here. How’s this sound, the right to liberty, to freedom of thought, freedom of religion and freedom of vacation. Here, everyone is guaranteed 4 weeks paid vacation and you are expected to take it. If you haven’t taken or planed to take it by November your boss will badger you until you make plans. After you turn 50 you get 5 weeks of vacation. Which is probably the reason why it is so difficult finding a new job after you turn 50!

Vacation and Sick Days

Teachers have 13 to 14 weeks off of teaching (i.e. vacation). To the non-teacher that looks like a lot of vacation time. A teacher sees it as classroom-free time and sometimes uses the time to prepare for classes. At any rate, a teacher we know was ill during the Christmas vacation. She went to the doctors and got an affirmation of this. When the vacation was over she was healthy again. Because she was ill during the vacation she took time off during the school year to make up for it. I suppose that technically it was correct but it didn’t make her any friends for sure. She caused a lot of commotion and costs.

Another variation of being sick and vacation days happened where I was working. We had a person there who was sick a lot every year. That particular year she was having a tough time health wise. I don’t remember the exact length she was absent but I believe it totaled around 3 months or so. She lost about 2 weeks of vacation days because of it. Understandably she was upset, she was being stripped of a basic right!

Although vacation days are high on the list of important things, Swiss don’t always react the way you would expect. Back in 2012 the Swiss voted if they wanted to up the 4 week vacation guarantee to 6 weeks. Who wouldn’t, you might think. Think again. Around 66% of the voters said “no”! They believed it would increase the labor costs and put the economy at risk. After all, someone has to pay for it and the easiest way is to pass the costs to the consumer. Oh well, it would have been nice, but the question does remain; who would pay for it?

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