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Les Vacances

Posted on Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The French have a lot of funny particularities.  Like any culture, there are habits so pervasive in their way of life that I can't help but notice them. Some, like the adament refusal to step aside on the narrow sidewalks as I struggle home with bags of groceries, are less endearing than others.  The French habit of carrying flowers upside down, with blossoms toward the ground, is as amusing to see as its "scientific" explanation is to hear ("They retain their smell better this way!" I was told by an incredulous Frenchman upon inquiring).  On an even more irritating note, it's probable that the stubborn French phrase ce n'est pas possible, a favorite with customer service  will haunt me long after I've moved from Paris.  I could write a long list of French behavior that is amusing, frustrating, incomprehensible, or endearing... But that wouldn't be very interesting, would it?


I'd rather focus on one French cultural institution that is revered above all others: Les Vacances.

Among the many benefits of working here, free health care aside, les vacances is by far the most highy valued.   For the French, vacation is not optional - and with an average of 5-6 weeks' vacation time allotted per year, why should it be?  This city has shut down over the past few weeks, as the Parisians - from the company heads to the least of secretaries - head to la campagne to stay in their holiday houses, or go abroad.  The streets are far more quiet during this time of year, if you're out of the way of the hundreds of tourists that do crowd some areas.  The bus isn't as packed, there are more bikes ready available for the vélib shared bike program... The city, on the whole, is a more pleasant place to live.  The list of Things The French Do Well might well exceed the distance between Paris and Philadelphia, in my opinion, but vacation nears the top of that list... Well, after wine, cheese, baguette...


I was lucky enough to take part in the mass exodus to the countryside a few weeks ago, when a friend invited me and a few others to spend the weekend at his family's beach house.  We went down on the train, and after a dodgy incident involving hitchiking from a truck driver, we arrived at the charming little house.  Dubbed La Maison Bleue, the cottage could have been in the center of wine country for its appearances.  Though that would've been just as agréable, the beach was a five minute walk from the front door.  We had lovely weather, delicious food, and the company was wonderful.  I learned the three Ps of a French holiday: pastis, pétanque, et poisson.  Though my weekend away was short, I realized quickly why the French generally take the whole month for their holidays.


Now, though, in the last week of August, things are slowly becoming animated once more around here.  The Christian Loubouton boutique on my street has reopened for business (much to the tourists' delight and to my crowd-battling chagrin), the smell of fresh bread is once again on every street corner, and my vélib luck is beginning to run out.  There's a feeling in the air that cooler weather is just around the corner, and some leaves have even begun to turn.  The summer has flown by, like every other season seems to, and I'm not quite ready for it to be over yet.  Though autumn in Paris is beautiful, the advent of the crisp weather and golden-dappled leaves means that another long winter is not far off.


Rather than settling into some old fashioned Parisian gloom with the rentrée, as seems to be the modus operandi around here, I'm determined to focus on exciting things coming my way.  For now, the weather is still beautiful and life is still good.  The next couple of weeks mean as many sunset bike rides as possible, wine filled picnics with some new friends, and walks home from work along the Seine.  Though the days are getting shorter, my heart is still so full of love for this place I'm so happy to call home - though, for now, I'll carry my flowers the normal way.  xo

PS: Check out this NYTimes article: A Quest to Make Gruff Service in France More Gracious.  It's an interesting read.

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Sinéad Cloughley said...

gorgeous pics & gorgeous writing. makes me heartsick for france! missing you dearly xx