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Eat balanced meals and shut the shutters - French government advice for staying cool in a heatwave

The Local France
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Eat balanced meals and shut the shutters - French government advice for staying cool in a heatwave
A man cools off under a water spray in Paris during a heatwave (Photo by Martin BUREAU / AFP)

With forecasters predicting France 'most intense heatwave ever recorded' this weekend, we take a look at the French government's advice on staying cool.

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A 'heat dome' trapped over France is set to bring very high temperatures this weekend and into next week, this forecasters predicting that it would be the most intense heatwave period ever recorded, with high temperatures across the country for many days.

Climate experts expect heatwaves in France to become more frequent, long-lasting and intense in the coming years, due to the climate crisis.

So if you're struggling in the heat, here's what the French government suggests you do:

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Drink plenty of water

Hopefully this is an obvious one, but when the temperature shoots up you do need to stay hydrated. The government advises remembering to drink water before becoming thirsty.

When it gets hot you'll hear announcements on public transport reminding you to stay hydrated, and cities publish maps showing the nearest water fountains. 

Stay in the cool

It is best to stay indoors in cool spaces, or to go to a cool area - whether that be a designated 'cool rooms' or a shaded green space.

Eat a balanced and fresh diet

Very French-sounding advice, but in hot weather it's easy to lose your appetite and few things will make you feel faint faster than not having eaten enough.

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The French government's graphic (below) suggests a hearty meal involving a whole chicken leg, but we're pretty sure you are allowed to make your own dinner choices. This being France, it's likely that whatever you choose will be delicious.

Graphic: Santé publique France

Shut the shutters

This often sounds counter-intuitive to northern Europeans who have grown up in homes without shutters, but actually they work very well to keep your home cooler in the summer (as well as warm in the winter).

Keep the shutters and windows shut during the day when the heat is at its height and then open both in the evening and early morning to allow in the cooler air.

Focus on light activities

Instead of going for a long evening run, try to do a lighter activity like stretching or yoga (as shown in the graphic). It can be dangerous to take on high-intensity workouts during a heatwave, especially during the hottest part of the day.

Avoid alcohol

On a scorching day sometimes only the thought of an ice-cold pint gets you through, but the French government actually recommends avoiding alcohol. It will dehydrate you, so maybe at least drink in moderation if you can't resist a cheeky chilled rosé on a summer evening.

Jump in a fountain

OK, this isn't word-for-word what the government says, the official advice is 'get your body wet' but jumping into a fountain or water feature is a pretty good way to achieve this.

Unlike in Italy, where people are strictly forbidden from getting into fountains, in France authorities at least tolerate it and on hot days in Paris, water features like that on the Trocadero are crammed with people cooling off.

The Trocadero is always a popular spot to cool off. Photo: AFP

As temperatures rise, cities including Paris activate their hot weather plans, so you will see brumisateurs - machines pumping out cool water vapour - on the streets and in parks.

You will also see little bottles of water with a mister that will spray cool vapour onto your face on sale in pharmacies and supermarkets. 

Check on family and neighbours, especially the elderly

France is still haunted by the memory of the heatwave of 2003 when 15,000 people, most of them elderly, died. Since then a lot of work has been done on protecting the elderly and vulnerable during heatwaves.

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Cities have heatwave plans which include free deliveries of fans to people registered as elderly and vulnerable, opening up air-conditioned 'cool rooms' in public buildings for people to go and cool off and opening extra accommodation for the homeless.

Nevertheless everyone is asked to check in with elderly or vulnerable people that they know to see if they are coping with the heat.

The French government also encourages people with disabilities and those over the age of 65 to contact their local mairie or community social action centre (Centre Communal d’Action Sociale) if they want personal assistance. 

Swim safely

It's a sad fact that every summer in France dozens of people drown after getting into difficulty while trying to cool off in lakes, rivers or the sea. The government advises never swimming alone.

For more advice, including for parents of young children and people working outdoors in the heat, head to the French health ministry's website.

Be aware of the physical symptoms 

Graphic: Santé Publique France

France's ministry of health encourages people to be aware of the physical side effects that high temperatures can bring on. These include cramping, fatigue, headaches, fevers, nausea, and incoherent speech.

If you believe that you or someone you know could be experiencing heat stroke - particularly if fainting, incoherent speech or high fever is involved, then you should call the emergency number 15.

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Comments (1)

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Mary Jane Wilkie 2023/08/20 14:57
I grew up in Texas and lived in Paraguay, and learned some practical ways to deal with the heat. First of all, avoid synthetic garments. Second, take a shower, DON'T dry off, put on clothes over your dripping body. You create your own personal AC unit. Third, fill the bathtub with cold water, and dip into your own private swimming pool several times a day. And lastly, what I learned from my cats: when it's hot, they don't move!

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