We have pension envy.
In Paris, workers last week went on a massive, paralyzing strike to protest reforms that could alter their ballooning, Balkanized, and very generous pension system. As unions threaten more disruptions next week, the Macron administration is under pressure to make concessions. But even if the government’s reforms were to go through, most French workers would still be better off than the rest of us. According to Le Monde, plenty of them are retiring before the age of 62 and drawing from several pensions at once. Here, we talk about lovers who aspire to be polyamorous. In France, there is a word for someone who enjoys multiple retirement incomes: polypensionné.
As the newly victorious Boris Johnson pulls Britain out of Europe and into a less-than-splendid isolation, parallels between the United Kingdom and Donald Trump’s America will be inevitable. But we are still obsessed with comparing ourselves with France: the two nations differ so starkly on the hot-button issues of sex and work. (Maybe sleep, too. But who is awake long enough to tell?)
Over the last few years, America’s power elite has been shaken to its core by the #MeToo movement; France’s, less so: the French filmmaker Luc Besson (La Femme Nikita, Taken), who was accused of rape by a former mistress, has recently faced serious criminal investigations. But as Alexandra Marshall explains in this issue, Besson may go to prison not because he allegedly sexually abused a woman but because he overworked an employee (then fired her while she went on health leave). There is no droit de seigneur in the land of the 35-hour workweek.
Besson may go to prison not because he sexually abused a woman but because he overworked an employee.
The French are not yet as puritanical as we are, but there are some signs we are becoming more European about protecting workers’ rights. That certainly seemed to be the case with Away, the hugely successful direct-to-customer luggage company. C.E.O. and co-founder Steph Korey resigned this week after her overbearing and not at all succinct Slack messages to employees were leaked to the press. Korey couched her Gradgrindian exhortations in female-empowerment-speak: “In an effort to support you in developing your skills, I am going to help you learn the career skill of accountability.… I hope everyone in this group appreciates the thoughtfulness I’ve put into creating this career development opportunity.” That is how she told one group of employees that she expected them to stay at the office. You (don’t) go, girl!
We still have a lot to learn before we can match the French art de vivre. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s most recent study on work-life balance showed that the French are second only to the Italians when it comes to finding time away from work: 68 percent of the day (or 16.4 hours a day) is spent on leisure and personal care (that includes eating and sleeping). The United States lags with 60 percent of the day (14.4 hours) spent on nonwork activities. The Italians are so adept at it that Brunello Cucinelli, the luxury-cashmere designer, sends employees home at 5:30 and forbids them to send any work-related e-mails in their off-hours. (This would have been a good tip for Steph Korey—according to The Verge, her most offensive Slack messages were sent to her staff at three a.m.)
And this is where Air Mail comes in. We work hard to improve your leisure. So, to enjoy more time away from work, read on.