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The truth about August in Paris finally dawned on me this year. The city isn’t dead—it isn’t now and it never really was. It simply operates at a different pace and requires a little more patience to work around small neighborhood businesses that close for two weeks or more in August. It’s more akin to what Sundays used to be like in the U.S. Remember the “day of rest” before most places stayed open seven days a week? After all, more women are working now and Americans (bless them) are profit-and-loss oriented. And “blue laws” be damned—if people want to go shopping instead of to church, that’s their business. Furthermore, U.S. stores that keep their doors open round-the-clock require additional employees, and that’s good for the economy. Yes?
It wouldn’t occur to me to go grocery shopping after about 11pm in France. I was ecstatic when the grocery store down the street from my Paris apartment extended its hours until 9 p.m., but never on Sundays. Vive la grandeur française!
When it comes to day-to-day living in Paris in August, whether you’re a resident or visitor, you simply need to make some compromises. Be prepared to walk a few extra blocks for your daily bread, but it’s not the end of the world. And okay, your favorite family-owned restaurant and some world-class Michelin-starred places might be closed tight, so use it as an excuse to try others. If things are really tough and you need a gorgeous dessert, not to fret. You can always buy one at Picard. If you can’t get to one of their many Paris stores, they’ll deliver.
All Paris parks are open and it’s a delight to see how people use them to their maximum. Playgrounds are full, and there are so many free events as a bonus. You can actually drive in the city and there isn’t the constant noise from cars and scooters racing from here to there. You can even rent and ride a Vélib’ without having heart failure dealing with priority to the right law that doesn’t make sense to some, but which is responsible for more accidents than you can count.
Quality of life in France is a frequent topic of conversation, especially since there are times when it’s hard to accomplish anything more than die on national holidays like May 1st (French version of Labor Day) when everything comes to a halt. People moan and groan about the French taking so much vacation. Actually, French workers today earn about 6 weeks of vacation per year and most of the younger ones parse it out with long weekends throughout the year instead of taking the entire month off as was done back in the day.
According to Paul Krugman of The New York Times, “A French worker produces about 99 percent of what an American worker produces in one hour.” That’s not too shabby.
I’ve been a French resident for more than 20 years, so it’s not surprising I’ve adopted some of the same je m’en fiche attitudes. It wasn’t an easy adjustment since I definitely qualify as a Type-A personality and have been known to complain loudly when I can’t pass go. For example, why do French security alarm companies appear to be closed during August? This causes me wonder whether or not someone would actually appear if there were a robbery.
In Paris (for that matter, all of France) there are on-call emergency medical services of all types available each and every day. You pay a premium, but who cares when there’s a crisis.
The pharmacy I generally use is closed, but the one on the next block isn’t. Paris has several pharmacies required to be on-call or open very late or even 24 hours a day. Here’s a list of Pharmacies de Garde, should you have an emergency medication need when in Paris.
Some doctors do stay open and many professionals take two or three weeks off rather than the entire month. My internist is seeing patients all month and said she expected August to be quiet. Judging by the number of people in her waiting room, it’s anything but and Nancy admitted even she was surprised how busy she’s been with regulars. She’s still planning on taking a couple of long weekends, but other than that, she’ll take a two-week vacation in September.
People in Paris appear more relaxed and it’s a mellow time of the year. If you crave crowds and action, head to the Eiffel Tower and you’ll find it. Don’t think for a second that everyone there is a tourist. There are plenty of locals as well who don’t feel like competing for space on the beach other than a space at the Paris Plages.
Weather wise, Paris has been a joy, unlike much of the U.S. where’s it’s been so hot you don’t want to leave anyplace that isn’t air-conditioned. People have worn sweaters this year in Paris—and yes, there’s been some rain but usually at night.
Jonathan Eaves, who lives here, said, “Paris at anytime is a wonderful place, and yes, August is quieter and a small challenge for business, but not impossible.”
An “urban myth” has, over the years, developed about Paris being completely closed in August. Simply adjust your pace, and move at the pace of Paris in August! That’s first-rate advice from this local.
Picard dessert image courtesy of Picard
Ice cream in Luxembourg Gardens photo ©Patrice Lanoy