Paris in August is a strange phenomenon. The holiday allowance is so generous for most people working in France, that it’s perfectly common to take three weeks, if not a whole month, of leave in the summer. I’d hazard a (completely unsubstantiated and non-scientific) guess that about 90% of Parisians depart from the city for the majority of August. And this mass migration isn’t limited to office-workers, either: in the past month, I must have seen literally hundreds of hastily tacked-up paper signs in the windows of myriad shops and restaurants, advising of their summer closure until x date at the end of August/beginning of September.
The result is that, for several weeks, Paris becomes something of a dreamland. During this time, in almost any area of the city, one can walk for miles and barely encounter another soul: quite a feat in such a large and prominent city. There are obvious exceptions – the Champs Elysées is only ever going to get so quiet – but even the major hotspots quieten down in August, the usual thronging crowds of tourists noticeably thinned out as Europe’s holiday-makers opt for seaside over city.
As for most of the rest of Paris, which tends to be surprisingly calm anyway, a deep quiet settles near-tangibly on the streets, like a thick blanket. It could almost be eerie – such a marked absence of humans and vehicles is generally synonymous with dystopian fantasy and zombie epidemics in the world of the Silver Screen – but it’s just remarkably peaceful instead. And walking around the all-but-deserted streets gives me a sense of both belonging, and of ownership. With no-one else here to claim them, those endless boulevards of beautiful Haussmann buildings feel like they are mine. The whole city does. Never has Paris felt more like home.
Admittedly, all the closed businesses can be something of an inconvenience. For example, I tried to take guests to my favourite boulangerie one weekend, with promises of Paris’s best croissant (according to several proudly-displayed awards in the shop, anyway), only to be foiled by one of those omnipresent hand-written window signs. Another weekend, I tried to take a (different) visitor to a gorgeous little gluten-free patisserie just off Rue Montorgueil, but no luck there, either. My favourite sushi place (the only one I’ve tried here) has also been closed for the past four weeks or so and I’m sure I wouldn’t have thought twice about it, since sushi is such a rare treat – but knowing I don’t have the option makes it so much more appealing – and therefore, frustrating – somehow. Even the little old man who seems to practically live in the crêpe stand around the corner has closed his shutters for the summer. Where on earth am I supposed to get a dose of hot, cheesy, carby goodness at 1am now? Well??
BUT, all of that said, I actually really admire the national mentality here. These are all independent businesses, and presumably, in most cases, the owners rely on the money generated by their shop, or their restaurant, or their café, as their primary – or only – source of income. So, often, when the business is closed, there is simply no income. And yet, family time and/or leisure time is considered to be so sacred that forgoing a whole month of that income is not a sufficient deterrent to prevent people from closing the doors, sticking a sign in the window, and disappearing off for three or four weeks by the sea.
They really have their priorities sorted, the French. I think it’s fantastic.