When American writer Russell Shorto first moved to the Netherlands, he at first experienced some sticker-shock: 52 percent of his income, he learned, would be taken away in taxes. A few months later, though, some of that money reappeared in an unexpected way:
In late May of last year an unexpected $4,265 arrived in my account:vakantiegeld. Vacation money. This money materializes in the bank accounts of virtually everyone in the country just before the summer holidays; you get from your employer an amount totaling 8 percent of your annual salary, which is meant to cover plane tickets, surfing lessons, tapas: vacations. And we aren't talking about a mere "paid vacation" -- this is on top of the salary you continue to receive during the weeks you're off skydiving or snorkeling. And by law every employer is required to give a minimum of four weeks' vacation.
Even the unemployed, Shorto points out, receive vacation money from the government -- after all, being jobless is depressing enough without enduring the horror of a life without all-inclusive cruises.
Indeed, vacations are sacred all across Europe. It's August, so France has practically shut down as people visit their summer homes, wander the beaches, or just "enjoy interesting conversation." This year, President François Hollande, attempting to set a more austere tone, urged the country's ministers to keep their summer breaks short -- well, short for France: two weeks.