Friday, December 29, 2006

Where in the world am I? (18)

I am in a country where they take a very eccentric approach to national holidays.

The choice of holidays can often be quite baffling - I was astonished to find that New Year's Day (the 'Western' New Year, that is - Jan. 1st) has long been a holiday here.... despite the fact that it means nothing in the local culture (like most of Asia, they follow a lunar calendar here, and celebrate their 'new year' a month or so later). My students are always surprised, somewhat disbelieving when I tell them that New Year's Day only recently became a holiday in England. I wouldn't be at all surprised if they adopt Christmas here too within the next 5 or 10 years.

In recent years, the government here has begun to embrace - with rather too much enthusiasm - the notion that holidays give a useful boost to consumer spending; on the other hand, it also deplores the lost productivity. And so, some bright spark came up with the novel (crackpot!) idea of trying to get the best of both worlds by decreeing 'make-up work days' on one or other of the weekends either side of a holiday. These proclamations probably don't actually have the force of law, but in this country the government's advice or exhortation is still treated as, well, strongly persuasive, at the very least. All government-run institutions and most major businesses slavishly follow the call to work a compensatory weekend.

Surprisingly enough, this scheme actually seems to work out OK for most businesses; but in schools and Universities, it is quite pointless to toss in one or two extra days of class (it just means that some of your classes have had an extra lesson; it's much better to try to keep everybody in sync, if you can). Most foreign teachers I know here always refuse to work these extra weekends: the brave ones openly defy the school authorities; the more cautious amongst us simply come to an arrangement with their more-than-willing students to furtively abandon the weekend classes. This has regularly caused me grief in years past, and I am so glad to be out of the local University system now.

Of course, the 'make-up days' ruse only used to be applied to the main, week-long national holidays. I wasn't aware that it had ever been employed before with any of the smattering of single-day holidays they have here.

But this year, we have a new experiment in craziness. Next week, Jan. 1st, 2nd, and 3rd will be holidays, but..... people are expected to work this weekend instead!! What the.......????

At least we found out about this bizarro plan a good 10 days or so ahead of time. Usually the government is still dithering about when or whether to schedule these 'make-up days' (and possibly even about how long the substantive holidays should be, or whether they should happen at all) until only days beforehand.

So, it's not easy to plan holiday trips in this country! However, most foreign companies - and more and more local ones - now give their employees a generous allowance of leave days in addition to the sporadic allocation of national holidays; at least people wanting to take long trips can bank on these (with the reasonably confident expectation that a certain number of them will turn out to be national holidays, and thus not to be deducted from the annual leave allowance).

As I've said many times before, it is a mad, mad, mad, MAD place.

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