Hungarian Holidays, Mandatory Work Days, Rest Days and My Confusion

May 1st is Labor Day here in Hungary along with most of the countries in Europe. Unlike the United States, where Labor Day creates a three day weekend by definition, Labor Day in Hungary may fall on any of the seven days of the week. This year, Labor Day was a Thursday.

The Hungarian government has a provision to deal with holidays which fall on Tuesday or Thursday. The related Monday or Friday is declared a “mandatory day of rest”. Hence Friday, May 2nd, became a rest day allowing many Hungarians to celebrate a four-day weekend.

But there’s no free lunch. To compensate for our mandatory rest day on Friday, we will have a mandatory work day next Saturday. Hungarians explain this policy far better than I do. I struggle to rationalize a rest day which sets up a six day work week followed by a one day weekend. This all seems a bit counter intuitive to the intent of “rest”.

My US-based employer doesn’t understand mandatory rest days either as it turns out. Friday morning, I checked my mail before heading out for the day. An urgent email awaited with the net message: sorry for the last-minute request, but we need to respond to the below urgently. Julie, you have the lead, and I need a recommendation by EOD. Which is basically shorthand for; no rest for you.

But wait, it is a mandatory rest day. This email is illegal, right?

Wrong. Besides, for me, it’s not a problem. I never understood mandatory rest days anyway. I completed the assessment, created a report, and reviewed it with my manager by the end of day. I felt a bit defiantly American, working on a rest day. “Ha, Hungary. Take that.”

Next weekend, when mandatory work Saturday rolls around, I’ll do what every American in my situation would do. I will ensure every single colleague at the team event realizes I worked last mandatory rest Friday. There’s only one thing Americans love more than working hard, and that’s talking about it.

Central Europeans like to talk about fatigue. Ask ten Hungarians (or Slovaks or whomever) how they are, and an alarming number will respond with some form of, “Oh, I’m fine. (yawn) Just awfully tired.” Perhaps mandatory rest days exist as part of a government effort to combat pervasive sleepiness, but that’s only a guess.

A mandatory rest day, to me, seems a bit of an anachronism. I can imagine the communist government mandating nap time  along with food rations and everything else they regulated. It seems as though communism and mandatory rest days should have ridden into the sunset together. Apparently not.

Saturday, Pat and I walked through town; past Parliament and over towards Saint Stephen’s Basilica. In the distance, I heard American music. At first, I thought it was Elvis Presley. The king is a bit of a cult classic here. In January of 1957 on the Ed Sullivan show, Elvis asked Americans to support Hungary following their revolt against the Soviet Union, and he sang “Peace in the Valley” as a tribute. Those Hungarians older than me remember his support fondly – which explains the Elvis Presley Park across the Danube from our apartment (and why the wifi password in my favorite coffee-house is ElvisPresley.)

We set off to explore the source of the music. In place of an Elvis impersonator, we found a beer tent, Corona on tap, and a live country music band. They were good, so we stopped to listen – first a bit of Waylon, then Willie. As they finished On the Road Again, one of them shouted “Happy Cinco de Mayo everybody”.

For a minute, I thought “Wow, is it already May 5th?”  No wait, it’s only May 3rd. Maybe Hungarians don’t realize the literal translation of Cinco de Mayo. Although surely an American band from the south does. More likely Cinco de Mayo is an excuse for this rare Mexican restaurant to throw a street party on a holiday weekend (four-day, no less!)

I laughed as we walked away contemplating the apparent randomness of work days and holidays and rest days and my general confusion with it all. I will never understand the way these crazy Hungarians think, which catches me perpetually off guard. And that is just one reason why I love living here.

Categories: Insiders Budapest

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2 replies

  1. I bet they don’t understand the way crazy Americans think, either. 🙂

    • Oh, I know that is true. At work, we have English conversation clubs at lunch. Very funny with us all sitting around saying, “really?”…. “No, really?”

      With reality TV, we are generally viewed as simply crazy!

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