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Around Town

August Ughs!

Here we are again, August in Paris. Mr. Hall and I have been away for quite awhile now, almost three months. When we left on June 1st, the city was bustling as usual, the Summer Fashion specials were lined up on magazine racks, bikinis in the windows at H&M and Zara. But it was still cold, still wet. A typical indecisive start to a Parisian summer. As the tourists streamed in, Parisians worked on their waistlines and tans in the privacy of the local gym and estheticians in preparation for the real start of summer: August.

The Paris on the streets below my window now don’t bear much resemblance to the Paris of late May and early June. First of all, it’s hot. Darn hot. Gloriously hot and humid. As most longtime residents know, Paris doesn’t really have seasons. It’s hot and sticky or cold and wet. The change seems to happen overnight, much to everyone’s dismay. Occasionally you’ll get a few mild days of sunshine and a cool breeze, but it’s usually the day you’re stuck inside with extra work. But not August. The muggy dog days of August are reserved for the beach, the mountains, the countryside. Anywhere but the city, with its grimy pollution and swarms of tour busses.

The French, as you know, get about five weeks a year paid vacation, and most take at least three of those in August, leaving the city of Paris in a strange state of French-less-ness. It brings to mind the old Anglo jab, “Paris is great, except for the Parisians!” Well, here’s the time to come visit, folks! Surrounded by no one except other happy travelers with digital cameras and sweaty guide books. The fact that French people don’t come anywhere near Paris in August results in not only quieter streets and less-crowded busses, it also means hotel prices are generally lower than both July and September (which is popular convention season).

Of course, there’s a downside to all of this. Almost all of the family-owned small businesses are closed during the entire month. It’s not uncommon at all to see a peice of cardbord scribbled with the message: Ferme pour Conge Annuelle on the local bakery, the corner pharmacy, and quite a few boutiques. The post office nearby won’t be open for two more weeks. My favorite bar has closed as well. The less touristy the street, the more eerily silent it will be.

For residents, this can be hard to bear at first, but then one get used to the relative calm and the relaxed atmosphere. Even at work, where half of the staff are on their vacation, the rest of us tend to come in later, go home earlier, and generally feel that what we’re doing isn’t that important to rush through. The Silly Season, as some call it.

I get a lot of questions from confused Americans about this concept of actually closing down shops for weeks at a time during high season. “What about the tourists? How do these companies make any money?” Therin lies the answer. The French care more about their time at the beach than milking the tourists all summer long. Can you really blame them? I’m supposed to be writing about Paris web sites, but this month I’m just not feeling motivated. Somewhere on the sunny terraces below is an iced tea with my name on it.

Starting next month, your Secrets of Paris site will be expanded massively with all of the new sites that have sprung up over the summer. New categories, more photos, and even a few contests to win some French goodies. If you’re looking for something you haven’t found, or want to suggest a good link you’ve discovered, drop me a note in the discussion forum or an e-mail, and I’ll see what I can do.

Enjoy the rest of your summer, wherever you are, and keep in mind that you’d better slow down and enjoy it now, because Winter is Coming!

This article is one of the 78 original “Secrets of Paris” articles published between September 1999 and July 2004. After disappearing into the internet graveyard for almost 15 years, I’ve republished them in autumn 2019 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Secrets of Paris: “1999-2019: Twenty Years of the Secrets of Paris” Broken and dead links have been updated or deactivated, but otherwise the article remains unchanged. 

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