Paid vacation time is mandatory in the European Union--four weeks is a minimum. That number can seem crazy to people in the United States, where it takes 20 years of service to reach an average of 20 vacation days a year--and even when we have it, we don't use it all.
But, in my experience, Europe embraces vacation--sometimes in ways that make no sense. I've frequently found restaurants that close for two weeks during peak tourist season--because the owners want to take their own vacation time. I'd think they would close in the offseason and make money while they could, but the vacation culture is strong.
This summer, my family is basically staying put, for a variety of reasons. We're making a couple of short trips, but otherwise staying in our home in Switzerland (which, admittedly, is a prime vacation spot in and of itself). And it's impossible to get anything done.
My lawyer has been on vacation for the past three weeks and will be back next week. I have some things I need her to look at, and they have to wait.
Getting a doctor's appointment? Good luck! At least the walk-in clinic runs year-round.
While this affects my day-to-day life because I'm physically here, it can also affect your business, even if you're based in the United States. When someone says, "The Geneva office is closed for three weeks," they aren't joking, and no one around here even bats an eyelash. So, how do you do the international part of your business when everyone else is at the beach? Here are some ideas:
This is going to happen every year. Some countries are worse than others, with everyone going at the same time. One of the problems is that European schoolchildren tend to have shorter summer vacations--six weeks is common--compared with the 10 to 12 weeks American schoolchildren get. Don't cry for the poor, suffering schoolchildren here--they get an additional eight weeks throughout the school year.
But those six weeks are going to vary from country to country. German and British schools tend to get out at the end of July, while Swiss schools close the last week in June. So, you'll have better luck with your London office in July than you will with your Swiss office. Go ahead and ask when peak vacation season is and plan accordingly.
Partner with larger companies
While small businesses can be excellent partners, if you will need people year-round, without fail, a large company will be a better bet than a small one. The multinational corporation isn't going to shut down its Paris office for the summer, but the small business might close its doors for the entire month of August. Ask when you are building relationships. They won't think to bring it up, because it's often a normal part of doing business here.
Embrace vacation yourself
Go. Take a vacation. Step away from the office and your phone and your laptop. Europeans have proved that the world doesn't end if you go on a vacation. If you're good at what you do, people will be waiting for you when you get back. It's OK to take some downtime.
Just make sure that if you do come to Europe for your vacation that the restaurants will be open in the small village you thought looked charming. Otherwise, you may be miserable during your vacation.