Congés annuels / Annual vacation

Rue des Dames (17ème arrondissement) with most of its shops closed

So I got here during summer vacation, or “congés annuels,” when many if not most businesses close for 3 to 5 weeks, basically at once. If you want to go to the restaurant, for instance, you have to call around to make sure your destination is open, as the people I had dinner with last night did before making reservations. I’m lucky I’m in Paris; in smaller towns, it can seem like the entire town has shut down except for the local supermarket (which often has reduced work hours).

Everywhere you go you see signs like this:

“The Narval [bureau de tabac] will be closed every day from July 30th to August 28th for annual vacation.”

The above is a bureau de tabac – literally “tobacco office” – meaning a place you can buy not just tobacco products but also newspapers/magazines, chewing gum, metro passes, cold drinks, postcards, and often other things as well. I was a bit surprised to find nearly every bureau de tabac closed, as in a place like this they would cater to tourists. I find that most of the boulangeries/patisseries are closed as well, which is a bit annoying as it means I’ve yet to be able to buy a proper baguette (I would go out in search today if it weren’t “la canicule,” heatwave, 38 celsius, heat index 42 – meaning 100-104 fahrenheit – outside).

It seems to be common among the French expats I know to bemoan the way everything closes down in August, in the sense that before I came people were asking me very seriously if I realized everything would be shut down. First of all, it’s not that shut down, and thank god for that; this city was enough of a jolt of density and movement to fall into in the first place without being at full strength.

It’s interesting being somewhere where so many people go on vacation all at once. I feel like it should annoy me – I should feel more inconvenienced – but I suppose I got used to this young, since my mother and I were almost always in France in July and August (and, indeed, often took brief vacations to the coast along with everybody else, though not for as long). In other words, for some reason I suppose I should feel more culture shock than I actually do, perhaps because I hadn’t been back here, back home, since 2007 and have spent a grand total of 3 weeks or so in France since 2000. It helps perhaps that I’ve spent far more time than that with my mother, who is extremely French, and that I teach French.

I don’t know. One comes back here as if falling into a strange but essentially familiar routine. My primary culture shock so far has had to do with gender relations (a possible post for another day), not vacation. I wish the US gave everyone five weeks of vacation; I could put up with inconvenience for that.

Which isn’t to say, fear of the population tripling aside, I won’t be relieved when the businesses start opening up this next ten days and I’ll be able to get myself a baguette by turning a corner and walking twenty feet. I have rillettes in the fridge (oh thank god for the fridge and the ice it can produce); you can’t eat rillettes without a good baguette.

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