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Paris ‘closes’ for August but how long will it last?

In recent years much has been written about how Paris no longer shuts up shop in August like it once did. But a short walk or even better, a drive around the French capital suggests old traditions die hard, but will it always be like this?

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

“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. 

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.

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READER INSIGHTS

‘Painful’ – is Paris Charles de Gaulle airport really that bad?

Following a survey that said Paris Charles de Gaulle airport was the best in Europe, we asked Local readers what they thought...

'Painful' - is Paris Charles de Gaulle airport really that bad?

Recently, Paris Charles de Gaulle was voted the best airport in Europe by passengers.

The 2022 World Airport Awards, based on customer satisfaction surveys between September 2021 and May 2022, listed the best airport on the planet as Doha, while Paris’s main airport came in at number 6 – the highest entry for a European airport – one place above Munich. 

READ ALSO Paris Charles de Gaulle voted best airport in Europe by passengers

Given CDG’s long-standing reputation doesn’t quite match what the World Airport Awards survey said – in 2009 it was rated the second-worst airport in the world, while in 2011 US site CNN judged it “the most hated airport in the world” – we wondered how accurate the survey could be.

So we asked readers of The Local for their opinion on their experience of Europe’s ‘best’ airport. 

Contrary to the World Airport Awards study, users erred towards the negative about the airport. A total 30.8 percent of Local readers – who had travelled through the airport in recent months – thought it was ‘terrible’, while another 33.3 percent agreed that it was ‘not great’ and had ‘some problems’.

But in total 12.8 percent of those who responded to our survey thought the airport was ‘brilliant’, and another 23.1 percent thought it ‘fine’, with ‘no major problems’.

So what are the problems with it?

Signage 

One respondent asked a simple – and obvious – question: “Why are there so many terminal twos?”

Barney Lehrer added: “They should change the terminal number system.”

In fact, signage and directions – not to mention the sheer size of the place – were common complaints, as were onward travel options. 

Christine Charaudeau told us: “The signage is terrible. I’ve often followed signs that led to nowhere. Thankfully, I speak French and am familiar with the airport but for first time travellers … yikes!”

Edwin Walley added that it was, “impossible to get from point A to point B,”  as he described the logistics at the airport as the “worst in the world”.

And James Patterson had a piece of advice taken from another airport. “The signage could be better – they could take a cue from Heathrow in that regard.”

Anthony Schofield said: “Arriving by car/taxi is painful due to congestion and the walk from the skytrain to baggage claim seems interminable.”

Border control

Border control, too, was a cause for complaint. “The wait at the frontière is shameful,” Linda, who preferred to use just her first name, told us. “I waited one and a half hours standing, with a lot of old people.”

Sharon Dubble agreed. She wrote: “The wait time to navigate passport control and customs is abysmal!”

Deborah Mur, too, bemoaned the issue of, “the long, long wait to pass border control in Terminal E, especially at 6am after an overnight flight.”

Beth Van Hulst, meanwhile, pulled no punches with her estimation of border staff and the airport in general. “[It] takes forever to go through immigration, and staff deserve their grumpy reputation. Also, queuing is very unclear and people get blocked because the airport layout is not well designed.”

Jeff VanderWolk highlighted the, “inadequate staffing of immigration counters and security checkpoints”, while Karel Prinsloo had no time for the brusque attitudes among security and border personnel. “Officers at customs are so rude. I once confronted the commander about their terrible behaviour.  His response said it all: ‘We are not here to be nice’. Also the security personnel.”

Connections

One of the most-complained-about aspects is one that is not actually within the airport’s control – public transport connections.  

Mahesh Chaturvedula was just one of those to wonder about integrated travel systems in France, noting problems with the reliability of onward RER rail services, and access to the RER network from the terminal.

The airport is connected to the city via RER B, one of the capital’s notoriously slow and crowded suburban trains. Although there are plans to create a new high-speed service to the airport, this now won’t begin until after the 2024 Olympics.

Sekhar also called for, “more frequent trains from SNCF to different cities across France with respect to the international flight schedules.”

The good news

But it wasn’t all bad news for the airport, 35 percent of survey respondents said the airport had more positives than negatives, while a Twitter poll of local readers came out in favour of Charles de Gaulle.

Conceding that the airport is “too spread out”, Jim Lockard said it, “generally operates well; [and has] decent amenities for food and shopping”.

Declan Murphy was one of a number of respondents to praise the, “good services and hotels in terminals”, while Dean Millar – who last passed through Charles de Gaulle in October – said the, “signage is very good. [It is] easy to find my way around”.

He added: “Considering the size (very large) [of the airport] it is very well done.  So no complaints at all.”

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