Les Grands Vacances, French Style

It’s mid-July and the Parisians have fled. Our neighborhood in the 7th arrondissement feels downright empty — the Marché Saxe-Breteuil has only half its usual vendors, parking is easy to find, playgrounds are eerily quiet. Even some shops and restos have shuttered for their annual vacation. In fact, as much as a week before the last day of school, parents began packing their little ones off to la campagne to spend several weeks with grandmère and grandpère before they’ll head out to join them in August. 
Cafes are emptying out…

It seems the extended summer vacation, for which Parisians are well-known, is alive and well. And although most cannot take off the six to eight weeks they once did, many do take at least three weeks in August. (Of course, I’m speaking here about a lucky segment of Parisians — those with family country houses to which they’ve been escaping for generations.)

Although I knew about French summer vacations, it still surprised me to hear wishes of “bonnes vacances” and “à Septembre<!– /* Font Definitions */ @font-face {font-family:Times; panose-1:2 0 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 0; mso-font-charset:0; mso-generic-font-family:auto; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:3 0 0 0 1 0;} @font-face {font-family:"MS 明朝"; mso-font-charset:78; mso-generic-font-family:auto; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:-536870145 1791491579 18 0 131231 0;} @font-face {font-family:"MS 明朝"; mso-font-charset:78; mso-generic-font-family:auto; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:-536870145 1791491579 18 0 131231 0;} @font-face {font-family:"Lucida Grande"; panose-1:2 11 6 0 4 5 2 2 2 4; mso-font-charset:0; mso-generic-font-family:auto; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:-520090897 1342218751 0 0 447 0;} /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-update:auto; mso-style-unhide:no; mso-style-qformat:yes; mso-style-parent:""; mso-margin-top-alt:auto; margin-right:0in; mso-margin-bottom-alt:auto; margin-left:0in; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:Times; mso-fareast-font-family:"MS 明朝"; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-fareast; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman";} .MsoChpDefault {mso-style-type:export-only; mso-default-props:yes; font-family:Cambria; mso-ascii-font-family:Cambria; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-fareast-font-family:"MS 明朝"; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-fareast; mso-hansi-font-family:Cambria; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;} @page WordSection1 {size:8.5in 11.0in; margin:1.0in 1.25in 1.0in 1.25in; mso-header-margin:.5in; mso-footer-margin:.5in; mso-paper-source:0;} div.WordSection1 {page:WordSection1;} ” on the last day of school. See you in September? Really? It was hard to believe that people would really be away for two whole months. But away they are indeed. At a recent party hosted by French friends, I heard some grumbling about the extended French vacation and its impact on the French economy. There is a growing sense that this time-honored tradition may not mesh well in the 24/7 global economy. Yet even as this awareness grows (especially among entrepreneurs, consultants and the self-employed), the French mind-set remains deeply devoted to their time off as not so much as privilege as a vital necessity. Unlike how I think of the typical American vacation packed with lots of things to do, sights to see and places to discover, the French use their vacations just to relax. Most stay in France and upon returning to Paris in September (for what they call la rentrée), reports will be shared not about exotic sights and travel adventures but about the quality of their relaxation. They return tanned (a sure sign of a successful vacation) and smiling (for a brief while anyway…) and ready to take on another year. (It seems the French calendar actually runs September to June — and not just for families.) As for my little clan, were headed back to the States for a happily extended “home leave,” — first to Cape Cod, then on to California for quality time with both sides of our family. Greg actually gets to take four weeks off (in a row!) and we’re looking forward to getting our feet on some American soil (and in the sand…).

Cape Cod, here we come!
Paris Plage, the “beach” on the Seine starts tomorrow and runs until late August. If you’re coming to Paris this summer (especially with kids), you gotta go!

It’s been almost a year since our last visit to the States during which time the kids have become little Frenchies. It will be fascinating to see how they readjust to hearing and speaking English, seeing old friends and visiting old locales. Should be interesting. I’ll keep you posted. What about you? Are you taking a summer vacation and if so, where are you headed? If plans will bring you to Paris, check back with me by the end of the week when I’ll share my favorite Paris picks for visitors. Until then, bonnes vacances!


Where Are the Kids?

Bonjour! Finally coming up for air after two weeks of sick kids at home. Adele had what was originally diagnosed was chicken pox (but turned out to be a skin infection. Thanks, doc). Cole had strep throat. Then I got strep, too. All better now, just in time for school to close on Thursday. (Yes, they’re still in school. Can you believe it?)

During the week that Adele was home, she felt perfectly well. We weren’t house-bound, I just needed to keep her away from other kids. This meant that we were out and about in Paris a fair amount, doing daily errands like going to the post office, market and making occasional stops at cafes. During our afternoons in the city, I was reminded of something that struck me immediately when we first arrived but I have since kinda stopped noticing.

On weekdays, you don’t see kids out in Paris. Like anywhere. They’re just not around.

When we first moved to Paris, this struck me as completely odd. ‘Where were all the kids?’ I kept wondering. I couldn’t figure it out. Not only were they not out on the streets (in strollers, with parents, on bikes or scooters) but they weren’t at the playgrounds either. I’d see the occasional stroller being pushed but even that was pretty rare.

It didn’t take long to realize what was up: The kids — including babies and toddlers — were all in “school.”

I recall taking my two up to Parc de la Villette (an entertainment complex in the 19e with a kids’ museum, movie theaters and massive park) one weekday soon after we arrived. Cole and Adele had not yet started school and wouldn’t for a couple of weeks. I had intended to use the time to help them (and me) get acclimated, adjust to the city and generally prepare to enter a new school, a new neighborhood — a new life. A trek to the city’s best kids’ museum seemed like the perfect thing.

Except when we got there, it was almost completely deserted.

We had the vast, interactive play areas pretty much to ourselves. Again, I was dumbfounded. Having spent my kids’ preschool years in Boston (a super kid-friendly town), we were regulars at places like the Science Museum and Boston Children’s Museum and just about every other tumble-gym and playground within the greater Boston area. These places were almost always packed with parents just like me. Our kids attended preschool only a few hours a day; we needed things to do or we’d all go nuts.

Not so in Paris. From a very early age, most French kids are put in high quality, super affordable, state-subsidized daycare. (Or parents hire nannies.) Then, after an extended period of paid maternity leave, moms (and dads) go back to work, to their same jobs that have been legally safeguarded during their absence. 

And here’s more. Upon return to her full-time job after the birth of a child, a mother has a legal right to reduce her work hours to part-time. The employer cannot legally deny this request. Can you imagine?? Think of all the hand-wringing and suffering so many of us go through over the question of whether to “work or stay home.” It’s such a fraught catch-22 with too few options for real part-time work that creates such a financial squeeze even if we do try to pull it off.

Again, not so in Paris. The rules here are simple enough: Kids go to daycare or school, parents go to work. Weekends are spent together. Hmm, pretty good.

Of course, there are downsides (like much less time with your kids when they’re little) and no system is perfect. And there is obviously much to be said on this topic. I do intend to get into it. But not today.

For now, I’ll close with this idea: Paris truly is a wonderful playground — for adults. Perhaps the best there is. In fact, Greg and I have long-referred to it as “Adult Disneyland.” The one for kids is an hour train ride away.

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I occasionally blog for The Huffington Post. Here’s a post I did recently about a very tragic event at Adele’s preschool.

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