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Paris 'closes' for August but how long will it last?
This one might be closed but a law states a certain number of boulangeries in Paris, must remain open in August. Photo: Eric Feferberg/AFP

Paris 'closes' for August but how long will it last?

Ben McPartland · 5 Aug 2014, 14:31

Published: 05 Aug 2014 14:31 GMT+02:00

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“We apologise for the 'exceptional' closure, we will open again on September 1st.

This is the kind of message that can be seen stuck on the inside of numerous shop doors or heard on restaurants’ answer phone machines in the French capital over the coming weeks.

For despite all the talk about the death of the tradition of Parisians leaving their home and heading as one, to the seaside in August, it seems the tradition of Paris closing up for the month still lives on.

While many say Paris’s month long siesta is over exaggerated, pointing to the hundreds of stores and diners that stay open, a short walk around the capital will reveal that things just aren’t the same in August.

Many restaurants prefer to forget about trying to pull in the legions of tourists that descend on the city in the summer and opt to go on holiday themselves, leaving behind pulled down shutters and a polite notice.

Closing at the height of the summer season may not make perfect business sense to some, but to them it makes sense to leave town at the same time as the rest of the Parisians.

It's the same too in some big companies. If the boss is off, then the staff might as well be off at the same time.

Many shops too are closed and if you have a tooth ache, then you might have to bear the pain a little a longer, until your dentist gets back from the Riviera.

Some even say August is a bad time to give birth in Paris, because all the best midwives and doctors are on the beach.

SEE ALSO: Ten things to do in Paris during August

If anyone doubts whether Paris is really that different in August then new figures for driving in the capital released this week may change their minds.

The average speed on the notorious Peripherique ring road increases to 52.1km/h in August, compared to 38khm/h which is the average speed throughout the rest of the year. The amount of time wasted in traffic jams is around a quarter of the time during the rest of the year.

On Saturday a new record was set for the length of traffic jams in the country as road authorities reported 915 kilometres of tailbacks, as Parisians and other city dwellers throughout France headed out of town.

But obviously things are not as bad as they once were. Thanks to an historic law which has its origins in the French revolution, that requires the need to guarantee bread for Parisians, it is still possible to find a boulangerie open in the city in August, and a pharmacy for that matter.

The Paris Town Hall even has an article on its website telling people where they can find a baguette in the capital during the month of August.

Authorities also make life easier for those who stay in Paris in August, by making parking free and allowing anyone with a monthly travel pass to use it throughout much of the Ile-de-France region.

The question is, will Paris continue to close down each August?

What will things be like in twenty years time? Will Paris just be like any other major global capital city, like New York or London which never seem to take a breath.

From next year the law that forces boulangeries to stay open will be scrapped meaning bakers, like everyone else can head to the beach whenever they want.

“The risk is that first two weeks of August there won’t be a single boulangerie open,” one local baker said.

There has also been talk of cutting the usually sacred long summer school holidays from the usual eight or nine weeks down to six, to bring the country into line with other European nations.

The growing influence of Anglo working culture may also bring about a certain pressure on the growing number of multi-national businesses in France. 

Story continues below…

A recent “anti-French” advert for the US Cadillac car, that mocked French workers for taking the “whole of August off”, reveals the typical American view of the French holiday culture. 

“As for the stuff (material items), that's the upside of taking just two weeks off in August. N'est-ce pas? ” says actor Neil McDonough, who stars in the advert.

In America “we are crazy driven hard-working believers”, he says, much to the ire of French media who labelled the advert “lamentable”.

Eric Sherrer from the retail union Clic-P believes Paris can withstand the pressure to become more like New York or London.

"You have to remember that there's nothing in the French law that obliges these shops or restaurants to close in August," Sherrer tells The Local.

"It's the way the French society has developed. It's a choice they make and other countries do the same. It's not just France," Sherrer says, who points out "all the chain stores stay open, as do the shops in tourist areas."

Anyone who enjoys being able to find a seat on a café terrace or on the Metro or a space in the usually cramped Paris parks, will hope that the French can continue to resist these “crazy” Anglos.

Ben McPartland (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

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