Heaven on the Seine
It’s the most wonderful time of the year in Paris. It’s the month of August, the time when vacation with a capital V invades the city; kidnaps the Parisians and forces them to go somewhere else. Most of them go south or to Normandy but it doesn’t really matter where they go. The big deal is that in the month of August, the Parisians are not in Paris. They lend the entire metropolis to a few stragglers (like me) and lucky tourists who can peacefully explore Paris without the usual hustle, bustle and stress. It’s heaven.
The Inherent Right to Go Away
It has always been amazing to me, almost scandalous sometimes, the way Paris allows itself to slow down to a near-halt in August. It’s a time-honored tradition that gets everyone involved from shop keepers to civil servants to government officials. It’s probably the one thing that opinionated Parisians agree upon – their need, their right to a month’s holiday. Good for them.
The newspapers are full of stories of where the president, ministers and local celebrities are spending their time off. Francois Hollande made news by taking a high speed train instead of the expensive government plane to get to Fort de Bregancon, an official presidential retreat on the French Riviera. He and his girlfriend, Valerie Trierweiler did travel first class but I guess that’s to be expected. Their appearance at the Gare de Lyon in the middle of thousands of other fleeing Parisians was certainly a surprise and a big change from his predecessor.
Police Peace of Mind
There are a couple of downsides to an empty city but the Parisians have thought of everything. For example, there is a higher incidence of break-ins in Paris in August. To help combat this, the Prefecture de Police has launched Operation “Tranquilité-Vacances” (which translates to something like Peace of Mind during your Vacation). What this means is that the police will pass by your apartment during the holidays just to check that everything is all right. You have to sign up for this service in person at the local police station (bringing the right form and proof of residence) and must be gone for at least 7 days (that’s super-easy to do in France!) This free service applies to private citizens and shop keepers alike.
Daily Bread – It’s the Law
If you are thinking that fresh bread might be hard to find in Paris during the month of August – don’t worry. The French government has it covered. The 1200 bakeries in Paris are forbidden by law to choose their holiday period; the city does it for them. In 1790, right after the French revolution, a law was passed forcing all bakeries to close either in July or August – on an alternating basis. And that law is still enforced to this day. A baker who has closed up his shop when he should legally be open risks a fine of 11–33 € per day. We all know how serious the bread business is here.
A big upside in Paris in August is car-related. There is a liberating lack of traffic jams; an unheard abundance of street parking – which, unbelievably, is free. Yes, the meter maids are all on the beach in August; no one is minding the store. How cool is that?
The Ultimate Playground
So if you really want to enjoy a city on vacation during your vacation, come to Paris in August. Just don’t expect to mingle with the natives – mingling with foreigners is not a Parisian cup of tea anyway. Just come and enjoy the ultimate playground – Paris.