So what is La Fête des Voisins?
It’s an event held on a Friday every year which is aimed at bringing neighbours closer together or at least encouraging them to go beyond the usual “Bonjour”, which is what most residents stick to, especially in big cities.
It’s designed as a special day where residents off blocks of flats or streets can actually share a moment of conviviality with each other and even perhaps make new friends.
Or for some people it could be the day for putting all those disputes about your noisy kids or neighbours’ late night partying behind you and use it as an opportunity to smooth over relations.
The event’s official international website says the celebration marks “the opportunity to reconnect with the values of solidarity, brotherhood and friendship that should be at the forefront of neighbourly relations.”
Although it’s fair to say the Fête des Voisins is not for everyone.
One Parisian told The Local that it’s the day everyone avoids. Asked to explain more she said: “I see my neighbours everyday, why would I want to have an apéro with them on a Friday?”
That’s not quite the idea of togetherness that the founders of La Fête des Voisins hoped to generate.
So what are we expected to do?
Basically, each resident in an apartment block or on a local street is invited to make “a simple gesture” on Friday, to invite their neighbours for a lunch or a dinner – anything that will allow an opportunity to interact with each other.
In big apartment blocks in cities neighbours usually descend with a few bottles of wine or beer as well as snacks to the courtyard. Essentially they have their daily aperitif with the neighbours instead of their friends or stuck inside their flat.
All city or social housing organisations are welcome to participate in proceedings.
If you’re invited to one, remember the message is of solidarity and togetherness.
If you’ve not been invited to anything, there’s nothing stopping you from knocking on your neighbour’s door and saying hello. You could even invite them for a beer or a coffee. Anything goes really, just be friendly.
So what are you waiting for? Go out and say hello.
There’s plenty more information here (in French).
How many people actually take part?
Well it’s growing in popularity each year. Nine million French neighbours took part last year and some 30 million worldwide. It Since it began 20 years ago, it has spread around the world.
What does Covid-19 have to do with the Fête des Voisins?
Covid-19 pushed many people to actually meet their neighbours. During the lockdowns, WhatsApp groups sprung up within apartment buildings and neighbourhoods to counteract loneliness. Applications like NextDoor and MesVoisins also grew in popularity, in large part to help create a communal space to assist elderly or vulnerable people during the pandemic. This will be the first fête des voisins in somewhat normal circumstances, so we’ll see if those pandemic-era connections were built to last.
So how did it all start?
Back in the year 1997, Frenchman Atanse Périfan had the misfortune of learning that an elderly neighbour had died inside his apartment block in the 17th arrondissesment of Paris – and nobody noticed for months.
He saw the bigger picture, realising that there wasn’t nearly enough neighbourly love going on in his life.
In a bid to rectify this, in 1999 Périfan invented Fête des Voisins and urged everyone living in his block of flats to come out for a drink and a snack on that day.
The following year he took the idea nationwide and since then it’s spread beyond France’s borders.
So do neighbours in France get along?
Obviously it depends where you live but what is clear is that in big cities where people live in big blocks where sound insulation is severely lacking, tensions can be strained.
A survey last year found that for 40 percent of French people the worst kind of neighbours were those with young children followed by party animals and those learning to play musical instruments.
And the same survey revealed that the biggest source of neighbourly disputes in France was, as you might have guessed, noise. Followed by fences and animals.
But Fête des Voisins is a day for putting all those disputes aside.