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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

‘The French have a taste for princes’ – Why British royals are so popular in France

The announcement of the death of Queen Elizabeth II has naturally caused widespread sadness and an outpouring of tributes in the UK, but also in France where the British royals have long been popular.

'The French have a taste for princes' - Why British royals are so popular in France

Perhaps the best known thing about French history is that they guillotined their own royals back in 1793. There were a couple of brief returns to monarchy, plus a self-crowned Emperor, but these days France is a firmly republican country.

But that doesn’t stop the French from showing huge interest in, and affection for, the royals on the other side of the English Channel.

In addition to fulsome tributes from president Emmanuel Macron and other high profile figures in France, the Union Jack was added to the flags outside the president’s Elysée Palace and the lights on the Eiffel Tower were turned off on Thursday night after the announcement of the death of the Queen, at the age of 96.

French TV channels on Thursday afternoon showed rolling news updates from the UK, while TV historian Stéphane Bern presented a specially recorded tribute programme to the Queen.

On Friday, three of France’s daily newspapers made the royal death their front page story, with Le Parisien using the headline Nous l’avons tant aimée (we loved her so much), Le Figaro saying L’adieu à la reine (farewell to the queen) and Libération opting for La peine d’angleterre (England’s pain, but also a pun on La reine d’angleterre).

But this wasn’t a one-time event sparked by the death of such a long-reigning and much-loved figure, royal fever frequently strikes France, especially during royal weddings. 

In 2021, 6 million people in France watched the funeral of Prince Phillip, 4 million watched the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012 and the royal weddings of princes William and Harry attracted 9 and 8 million French viewers respectively.

Charles de Gaulle once remarked: “The French have a taste for princes, but they will always look abroad”.

French presidents, such as de Gaulle, are both the political leader of the country and the head of state, and have quite a few semi-monarchical trappings to the role, such as accommodation in the very grand Elysée Palace.

Emmanuel Macron, who began his presidency styling himself as an almost royal figure before being forced by public pressure to adopt a more down-to-earth governing style, called the French “a nation of regicidal monarchists” – yearning for a strong leader yet always keen to tear them down.  

One of his predecessors, François Mitterand, also remarked on this difficulty, reportedly saying in 1984: “I must be both Margaret Thatcher and Queen Elizabeth.”

Although the monarchy is far from an uncontroversial subject in the UK, where a significant portion of the population believe that the royals should have no official role, in France they are seen as a force for unity.

TV presenter Stéphane Bern, himself an ardent royalist, wrote a special essay in April 2022, to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. He said: “How can we explain this French infatuation with everything related to the British monarchy Nostalgia of the sans-culottes [French revolutionaries] for the monarchic splendor? Curiosity for this unchanging institution which is not afraid to conjugate secular rites in the present? Or a formidable symbolic force that gives hope to an entire people, who believe themselves invincible as long as the queen (or king) watches over them?

“How many events in our country are still capable of bringing crowds together, across political divides, religious beliefs or social affiliations? Apart from the football World Cup, when France wins, moments of national communion are rare and, even on July 14th [France’s Fête nationale] the principle of unity does not always prevail.

“If the British royal family is so popular in France, it is because it embodies the symbolic power capable of bringing together an entire people and of which we feel orphaned. The crown, which unites in diversity, seems to allow the British to find themselves and to commune around the timeless values of their nation.

“Unconsciously, there must be a kind of nostalgia, tinged with a sense of guilt, in this look of admiration and envy.”

French journalist Nicolas Domenach, speaking to The Local during the royal wedding celebrations in 2018, also emphasised the sense of unity, saying: “English royalty serves to maintain the unity of the country. It has immense symbolic power, but no concrete power.

“This monarchical permanence in a democracy fascinates us because we cut off the head of our king and our queen.

“We are proud to have accomplished our Revolution, but we maintain a nostalgia, if not a remorse.”

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