If one thing is sacrosanct in France, it’s vacation time. And when the schools close in July and August, it’s more than just the summer holidays: these are les grandes vacances.
Ain’t life grand? Everyone, but everyone – goes away. It’s not enough to simply take time off from work. Il faut partir. The question on everybody’s lips is – “Vous partez? Où?”
A question of only slightly lesser importance than ‘où’ is: ‘Quand?’ When you are leaving is almost as vital as where you are going. And as with any question of faith, there are different schools of belief. The two main camps are those who go away in July – les Juilletistes – and those who wait until August – les Aoûtiens.
Les Juilletistes – These are people who just can’t wait to get away. They long to be first and to come back tanned and relaxed while everyone else is still stressed. And they look forward to a second break when they return during the dead weeks of August. No traffic. No line-ups at the lunch counter. Hardly anyone haunting the office. Not surprisingly, Juilletistes are viewed with suspicion and perhaps a hint of envy.
Les Aoûtiens – They are the traditionalists, the moral majority. Also the self-employed (moi). They are the worker bees. They cannot afford to take off before the half-year financial results have been put to bed, the president has spoken to the nation on the 14th of July, and it is safe to assume that France has rolled up its sidewalks for a long summer’s sièste.
I’m normally an Aoûtienne. Not just for the reasons above, but because I’ve always found it unbearable to be coming back to work when everybody else is on their way to the beach. But this summer is different…this year we have decided to stay put.
We’ve been intending to do this for years. Ever since we entered that enviable bracket of those whose kids have flown the nest and are no longer required to stick to le calendrier des vacances scolaires. When prices often double in France.
For once, we decided to be smart and enjoy the summer in our own backyard. Then take a break in the lower season when most people are back at work.
I didn’t think this would be a problem. I’m a real homebird and looked forward to enjoying the season in our parts for once. We’re lucky enough to live in a beautiful region that attracts a lot of people on holiday. We have a lake nearby and a pool. And this year, this idyllic location has attracted quite a few of our own family as visitors. So we’ve been busy.
But I have to say it feels wrong somehow not to be going anywhere. Last year it was Corsica and the year before, Dubrovnik. Both of which were beautiful. Now, without a trip in the offing, I’m feeling a little antsy.
There’s an expression for this in French: ‘Il faut se dépayser.’ You need to get away, discover something new, have a change of scene.
Don’t you love the fact that the French have specific words to describe the need for a holiday? And for different summer vacationers?
What about you? Juilletiste, Aoûtien or not at all?
For those who read French, this article from Le Figaro drolly explains the entire philosophical debate around the choice.