Sunday, March 25, 2007

Janine DiGiovanni: Paris Notebook

Like all my Parisian friends, I’ve been exhausted for years. Our reasons vary from small children to an abundance of mistresses. Indeed one recent study shows that one third of the French population does not sleep enough. According to one psychiatrist, insomnia is “the language of distress.” And this being France, the government has decided to step in.

Earlier this month, Xavier Bertrand, the Health Minister, launched a seven-million-euro campaign to study the link between chronic fatigue and job performance. People should nap more, he says, even during the work day. His view is backed by the journal Archives of Internal Medicine, which says even three naps a week after lunch reduce the chances of dropping dead from a heart attack.

“Why not nap at work?” Bertrand says. “It can’t be taboo.”

Only in France. This is a country that already has a 35-hour work week and plenty of vacation. The French also have a higher absentee rate at work than the British or Americans. So how will imposing a siesta change their laziness?

In the Mediterranean or parts of Central America, the siesta is the norm. It is proven they have lower rates of heart disease. But these are cultures which don’t multi-task, don’t do Blackberries while walking down the street and eating lunch at the same time, and don’t produce Richard Bransons or Warren Buffets.

Years ago, a senior hack at my Wapping office gve me a tip. The nurse’s office had a couch. You could feign a migraine and go to relieve your hangover for five minutes. I did it once, but felt tremendously guilty.

But the French, as my friend Jean-Jacques often tells me, “suffer no guilt.” It’s not that they are shameless - they just have a different code. The right to sleep is linked to the French culture in the same way that food and good wine, good medical care and good schools are.

Workers would be annoyed if they did not get their employer-provided luncheon vouchers. And now workers will be annoyed if they don’t get their naps.

I will never forget the day my husband, who works for a major television network in Paris, took me to his newsroom. Then he showed me a unmarked door down the hall, which opened on to a double bed made up with paper sheets.

The room was “officially” for exhausted reporters pulling all-night shifts. “But unofficially, come on, you know what it’s used for.” He then recounted two graphic stories about reporters and their trainee journalists. “It’s better than using the loo, isn’t it?” he shrugged.

This, I fear, will be the future if M. Bertrand gets his way: government-approved naps and a new vogue for workplace affairs. It will be quite exhausting.

No comments: