Bank holidays around the world
- 26 May 2013
- From the section Magazine
In traffic jams, at the beach, or still at the office - how are bank holidays marked around the world? BBC correspondents from Seoul, Los Angeles, Rome, Calcutta and Moscow provide a worldwide view.
Working hours in South Korea are some of the longest in the world - it's not unusual for office workers to stay in the office until 9 o'clock at night - and nobody leaves before the boss. So when a bank holiday rolls around, there's a desperate bid to break for freedom. Which often means another long day spent sitting - not at a desk, but in a traffic jam. A quarter of the nation's population lives in Seoul, and on summer bank holidays, some of the jams clogging the roads out of town are spectacular enough to make the front pages of the newspapers.
South Korea is a car-producing nation - Hyundai and Kia are both Korean brands - and the country is rich enough that almost every family has at least one. Most people head to the coast or to the cool, forested mountains in the north, particularly when the bank holiday creates the chance for a long weekend. For many Koreans, this little escape is a substitute for the annual leave they don't take. The working culture here is so strong, that a day or two at a time is the most some office workers say they can afford without incurring disapproval from their senior colleagues.
It's a shame then, that up to a third of their bank holiday escape can be spent sitting in the national car park normally known as the Gyeongbu Express Motorway. Lucy Williamson
The average American gets less than three weeks' paid holiday a year - assuming they've got a job. So when a public holiday comes around, like Memorial Day, it is embraced with relish - relish that usually goes along with the hot dogs, burgers and tacos at a family cookout. It's a day for getting out and doing something. And that usually means packing a lot in, seeing family and friends and making the most of the day. Here in California it can be an excursion to the beach or a trip to the mountains to catch the dying days of the winter skiing season. The BBQ spots in city parks fill up quickly.
For most Americans, the major bank holidays signpost the year (not that they're known as "bank" holidays here). The final Monday of May marks the official start of summer, carefree days, hot weather, pool parties and summer movies. But Memorial Day, lest we forget, is an occasion, fundamentally, to remember the men and women who died while serving in the US armed forces. Families visit graves and there are ceremonies at the cemeteries. In this hugely patriotic nation, people do not forget. Peter Bowes
A day off work in Italy. What could be better. The possibilities are endless - there's the food and the wine, and the countryside, and in this long, thin nation many people live close to the beach. And the great thing about Italian bank holidays is that they aren't tied to Mondays. They float around in the week. So if there's one on a Thursday, you might get the Friday off too, and then disappear for a very long weekend.
Of course not everyone can afford to take advantage of this. And many weary workers just choose to slump at home with the family on a holiday. But here in Rome - during the holidays in spring - there is a strong tradition of getting out beyond the city's ancient walls. It's a time for picnicking in the cool of the hills. Up in the woods the smell of barbeques can hang thick in the air, and artichokes are sometimes roasted in the embers. But there's a very different mood on a holiday in November. This is when Italians choose to remember the dead. Families visit the graves of relatives. Prayers are said, and chrysanthemum flowers - always associated here with death and mourning - are left behind. Alan Johnston
As India's economy continues to grow, lots of the youngsters around in the IT sector are working long hours, six days a week. They love bank holidays. As a friend of mine who runs a software business tells me, "In the days before a holiday, my staff seem to spend all their time trying to book train tickets for day trips, or have mysterious illnesses the day before." It is a great day for the shops - India's new malls are packed, and restaurants and cinemas are full of families spending their hard-earned money. Even the temples are busier here as people have time to go and visit their favourite gods.
But not everyone is happy. My cousin runs a PR company. Ask him about bank holidays and he just scowls - it's madness, he says. There's republic day, independence day, Gandhi's birthday, and then all the religious holidays - what's the point of trying to work here? But for hundreds of millions of Indians, a bank holiday is just another day, because they cannot afford to stop working if they want to survive. Here in the world's largest democracy, bank holidays are for the rich. For the poor they are just another day. Rahul Tandon
I really feel for the residents of Oimyakon, a little village in eastern Siberia. A couple of years back on Russia's February bank holiday, temperatures there plummeted to -56C. Now, you're not exactly going to pop off to the seaside and enjoy an ice cream in cold like that, are you?
Oimyakon is an extreme case, but there many places in Russia where winter digs her heels in, determined to stick around as long as possible. Which means that if you're not careful, chilling out here on a bank holiday can leave you with a nasty case of frostbite - if you don't wrap up warm. By May, though, it's a very different story.
The snow's melted, temperatures are rising and millions of Russians spend their May bank holidays enjoying the fresh air. Either on allotments - the so-called ogorody - where they plant fruits and berries and vegetables - or, if they're lucky enough to have one, at their country cottages, or dachas. Lying ahead are the sleepy summer months, filled with barbecues, beer and vodka - and being bitten to pieces by mosquitoes. Oh well, it makes a change from shivering in the snow. Steve Rosenberg