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FRANCE EXPLAINED

Fête des Voisins: All you need to know about ‘neighbours day’ in France

Today marks France's Fête des Voisins or neighbours festival, a celebration that has spread across the world after it was created in France. Find out how the discovery of a dead woman's body prompted the movement, and how you're expected to take part.

Fête des Voisins: All you need to know about 'neighbours day' in France
Photo: AFP

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.

Member comments

  1. I got to know something of my neighbours only when it came to moving out of my apartment in the 15è (Paris), and advertised bits of furniture etc for sale and a number of them came to inspect. In the eight years before that, it was rare to get beyond banal greetings in the lift.

  2. We have get togethers in our building since the new presidency was elected, btw the president is an American muslim, great guy. Everybody has fun and the food is great and you get to know other people that live in this 10 floor building and we find each other in other places and greet each other. These fetes are great. I’m in DC,USA.

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FRANCE EXPLAINED

Cabbage and Christmas: What the French and Germans really think of each other

From baguettes to Birkenstocks, clichés on France and Germany die hard, even as the two countries celebrate 60 years since the post-war treaty establishing friendship between the two European giants after decades of rivalries and conflict.

Cabbage and Christmas: What the French and Germans really think of each other

On the occasion of six decades marking the signing of the Elysée Treaty, AFP spoke to some Franco-German couples about their culture clashes on everything from food to Christmas.

Bread and cheese

The French national obsession with the baguette – recently elevated to UNESCO world heritage status – can be hard for Germans to comprehend.    

The omnipresence of the elongated bread at mealtimes is a source of consternation for Verena von Derschau, born in Germany and married to a Frenchman.

“It doesn’t even get eaten! It just ends up as crumbs by the plate,” she says.

Reader question: How many baguettes does the average French person eat per day?

By contrast, pungent cheese and other sources of French gastronomic pride can lead to a certain hauteur vis-a-vis other cuisines, with fingers pointed notably at Germany’s love of potatoes and cabbage.

François Dumas, a Parisian who lives with his German partner, winces at the idea of some Teutonic preparations such as Maultaschen, a meat-filled dumpling usually served with broth.

“I give up there!” he says.

Comfortable shoes

While Birkenstocks now belong to the same stable of luxury brands as Louis Vuitton, the cork-soled sandals – on occasion sported with socks – remain emblematic of the German love of practical clothing.

“Germans dress like sacks, always comfort first,” says Roland, a Frenchman in a bi-national couple for years.

Schools

Meanwhile, in France it is children who suffer discomfort in the country’s strict school system. “I feel sorry for them, they have such long days,” in contrast to the German pupils who often have the afternoon free, Julika Herzog says.

Technology and trains

When the family is on holiday in Germany, it is her husband’s turn to complain. “There’s nowhere you can pay with card,” François Dumas says.

“And the trains are always late,” he says, the opposite of the German efficiency many expect.

Bells and bunnies

Festivals reveal yet more differences. The relative absence of the Easter Bunny in France was a surprise to Verena von Derschau. Instead, “they have bells”, she says, puzzled by the images of a winged bell bringing goodies to children during the spring holiday.

Flying bells and a giant omelette – how the French celebrate Easter

Christmas follows a different rhythm on either side of the border, too, with the French dressing up their trees early in December, while many Germans wait until Christmas Eve.

Germans also lean towards a more sober tree decoration, says Verena von Derschau, who has banned blinking fairy lights in her household.

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