Yesterday was Labor Day in the U.S. I am particularly fond of this holiday as it brings back my prime memories of living in the U.S., nearly a quarter of century ago. I was hardly starting working in the homeland of tough capitalism (that how we pictured it back then, the cold war was not over, and the vocabulary reflected the global reality of those ancient times) and there was already a day off. For supposedly over-exploited hard working masses, it sounded pretty cool. Back then—or maybe it is just a New England way—people would not say “holiday” for a  day off, but “bank holiday”. It sounded weird to my ear to limit holidays to banks. Maybe this was the  trace of mass exploitation: only finances enjoy the recreation of holidays? Financial establishments were indeed closed, but many stores in town were too to my greatest surprise. That was unfortunate, because the shops downtown around the university were the only ones I knew and checked.

I then realized that not only the stores, but also my university and accordingly, my office, were closed. Obviously, tough capitalism had ways to take time off without a warning. It was before the Internet, before you have a gentle reminder by email or can browse the Internet to understand what is going on. Back then, you depended very much on general social knowledge. And mine about life in the U.S. was about zero. For instance, it did not occur to me to look for stores other than the ones I knew and which were closed. As a Frenchman, I could not even imagine that banks, offices and stores would be closed, without having the whole country stopping its activity. French like to be on the same activity level than all their fellow citizens.

Two things struck me about the date. It was odd to have Labor at the beginning of September, when basically, social life resumes its normal pace after the summer break. It is still stranger when you think that everywhere else Labor Day is on May 1st.

Ironically, Labor Day in May commemorates the moment when the workers’ daily workload was limited in many places to 8 hours… in the U.S. Maybe, September was chosen because America is un at ease with the 1st May memory of a country where social revolt existed and was successful–though at the price of the life of the victims from police and judicial repression.

Back to this sunny labor day in 1988, and to happier considerations: I also noted how convenient it was that Labor Day that year happened on a Monday. Later only would I realize that American pragmatism had put most of holidays on a Monday. There are few exceptions due to unforeseeable circumstances: Christmas and new year cannot always fall just after the week end. The Founding Fathers have also their responsibilities in initiating a national day which is a different one in the week every year: they had no choice but to declare the independence on a set date. A century and a half later, Roosevelt showed some clumsiness or timidity when he decided to maintain Thanksgiving on a Thursday. For the rest, the American art of using day off to extend a week end is pretty close to perfection.