The French cultural war you’ve never heard of
Paris (CNN) – In France, summer holidays are sacred. So much so that the government is ready to relax its own Covid vaccination policies to let French workers go to the beach without worrying about their second injection.
Until he did, public outrage at the prospect that rigid vaccination plans could jeopardize people’s summer escapades was enough to unite one of France’s biggest cleavages: the “Julyists” – those who go on vacation in July – and “Augustans” – those who prefer August.
To appease these avid vacationers, authorities have agreed to waive guidelines that second vaccinations should generally be received at the same location as the first. Now people can choose locations including popular vacation destinations.
The monthly preference of French sun seekers may seem like a mere curiosity to the rest of the world, but for those who live there, it is serious business – and one that cripples the entire nation every year.
For anyone planning to visit France during the summer months, this is also worth taking note, especially if they don’t want their favorite Parisian restaurant to be closed for weeks, or if they want to avoid it. one of the biggest traffic jams in the world.
Understanding why some in France prefer holidays in August and others in July is to progress in understanding what it is to be French.
“Everyone in France is looking forward to the summer holidays,” says Julien Louap, a 30-year-old Augustian. “It’s like Christmas but in summer.”
For Louap, a proud Parisian, the reason August is better than July for holidays is simple: Paris is too exciting to go in July. Each year the city organizes a large fireworks display for July 14, the French national holiday, accompanied by public entertainment and private parties.
Fireworks on the beach
This year, the French traffic information services are expecting 700 miles of congestion.
PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP via Getty Images
When August arrives, the city is invaded by another sensation: calm. Most of the city’s residential areas will be emptied as locals go on vacation, giving 26-year-old Augustian Arthur Cuhel yet another reason not to go on vacation in July.
Cuhel doesn’t want to come back from vacation at the end of July in an empty town and be stuck at work at that point while most of his co-workers are enjoying their August free time on the beach. Moreover, for him, the month of August is also good weather, guaranteed sunshine.
“In July, it’s less crowded,” Cuhel said. “But the weather is also worse and I need some sun.”
But for many Julyists, a less crowded beach is more valuable than a sunnier, warmer beach. Plus, celebrating July 14 on a deserted, relaxing beach is as much fun as throwing a party in Paris.
“You have fireworks on the beach,” said Juliette Gache, 21. “Whereas for August 15th, it’s usually packed.”
The cost of a holiday in July is also lower, as the demand for hotel rooms is generally lower than in August. Holidaymakers in France booked 23.4 million overnight stays in July against 24.8 million overnight stays in August in the summer of 2019, the last summer vacation season before the pandemic, according to a study published by the National Institute statistics and economic studies.
While they are divided on many fronts, Julyists and Augustans can agree on one thing none of their months are good at: traffic.
“Traffic jams are kind of a tradition,” Gache said. “Even if you leave your house at four in the morning, which my family usually does because we are psychopaths, you will still find yourself in traffic.”
“The jam of the century”
Paris is generally quieter in August, when many locals leave the city.
STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN / AFP via Getty Images
Being stuck in a very small vehicle, sometimes without air conditioning, with three or four other family members on the A7 motorway is a childhood memory shared by many French people. This highway, connecting the French cities of Lyon and Marseille across the Rhône valley, is nicknamed “the highway of the sun” because it leads to the sunny Côte d’Azur.
“The Rhône valley is very hot in summer,” explains Lilian Delhomme, 24, a July worker. “You will die and be resuscitated once you get to the beach.”
France’s most infamous annual traffic jam takes place every year on the Saturday of the week July meets August. This is the day when the returning Julyists clash with the Augustans at the start which results in traffic jams across the country, called “traffic jam of the crisscrosses”.
“This year, as in previous years, we expect more than 700 kilometers of congestion,” said Fabrice Vella, chief forecaster at Bison Futé – “Smarty Buffalo” in English – traffic information service of the French Ministry of Transport.
In fact, the traffic service was created as a result of a bad crisscross traffic jam, that of 1975, called “the traffic jam of the century”. On August 2, 1975, the 800-kilometer-long National Route 10, which connected Paris to Spain at the time, experienced a 450-kilometer traffic jam, which meant that half of the road was blocked by traffic.
Bison Futé currently uses a four-color grading system to indicate the level of congestion with green on the right side and black on the wrong side. France only sees one or two “dark days” each year when the whole country is covered in black and usually the crisscross day will be one of them, according to Vella.
City at a standstill
One of the main reasons the French are passionate about summer vacation is that French labor law guarantees five weeks of paid vacation to most of its workforce. Indeed, France was the first European country to set up a generalized two-week paid leave in 1936, under the socialist government led by Léon Blum, according to Alain Chatriot, professor at the University of Sciences Po.
In the summer of 1936, for the first time in forever, hundreds of thousands of French factory workers went to the beach and enjoyed their vacations, a privilege previously reserved for the bourgeoisie and aristocracy.
“This remains one of the most symbolic provisions of labor law,” Chatriot said.
The French love for the holidays also means that American tourists who plan to visit Paris this summer, especially in August, will see most restaurants and cafes closed.
Originally from Paris, Cyril Choisne, 40, has been working in the gastronomic world of the French capital since 2006. Eclipses, his own restaurant recommended by the Michelin Guide near the Musée d’Orsay, like most other restaurants in Paris, is closing its doors. doors during the first half of August because most of their customers are gone.
“Last year I tested the opening from August 1 to August 15,” he said. Demand “has fallen by more than 90%”.
But for Choisne, the tranquility is exactly the reason he encourages everyone to visit his hometown at this time of year. Just remember one thing, he said, “Always bring a bottle of water and keep in mind that it will be difficult to find toilets as most of the city will be at a standstill. . “