Paris in August
The discreet charm of deadness
If you have ever visited Paris in August, you might have encountered a yearly phenomenon that mystifies many visitors. How is it that Paris, the city of light, can relentlessly hold on to a total shutdown tradition every August? This is not so apparent in the more tourist frequented areas, but try other neighborhoods and you will see the familiar little notes posted with careful script : "fermeture annuelle" on shuttered shops up and down the streets. In some of the quieter sections of the capital, it may look like a ghost town, with no traffic and all the closed stores.
There are several reasons why people take off "en masse" during that time. The weather is at its best in August, so it makes sense to take advantage and flock to the beaches or visit other parts of the country, get some fresh air and "decompress". The highways out of Paris, however, are packed and traffic can get pretty nasty at the beginning and end of the season. Bumper-to-bumper for kilometers ahead will have vacationers stuck in traffic and tempers testy as the mass exit makes its way out of town.
The flip side of all of this (for all the snarky commentors on this subject), is that most French workers get five paid weeks off, and it doesn't factor in multiple holidays throughout the year plus all the extended weekends (should a holiday fall on a Thursday, many will take the 4 day break) or for those in jobs where 35 hours are not factored in, they have RTT days ("réduction du temps de travail" or reduced work time), which compensates for the lack of adherance to the 35 hour work week law. The latter can be enforced in 2 different ways. The employer can stipulate how they can be taken or leave the employee to decide at his or her discretion. Some of those days can sometimes be given away to a co-worker, in case of a family emergency or a child's illness, for example.
So, reading note after note of August closures, I was reminded that if businesses are on vacation, so are their clients and how nice to be able to give everyone a break for an extended period of time, isn't it? Time off is important in France, just as much as productivity, something to be said for that. It's actually a relief to visit the city at that time. Everything is quiet, like a collective siesta. There is always someone open somewhere to compensate for the inconvenience, so as funny as it may seem that so many businesses close for an entire month, it puts in perspective the importance given to time off and to those who during the rest of the year make time productive. Yes, there is a discreet charm in that deadness after all!
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