French are a predictable bunch. They eat lunch between 12 p.m. and 2 p.m., have dinner between 7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m., and they sometimes enjoy a guilt-free snack in the afternoon. They shop after the traditional 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. workday or during their lunch break. They rest over the weekend, buy discounted clothes during the biannual sales period. They watch the 8 p.m. hour-long news program, check out new movies in theatres on Wednesdays and celebrate all the major holidays in the calendar if they are bank holidays—nobody cares about Valentine’s Day, for instance, but May 1st (labour day) is popular because you get the day off.
And of course, French take vacations. Most salaried employees get four or five weeks off a year plus all the bank holidays—there are so many ponts (long weekends) in May that everybody jokes you barely work that month. Even school-aged kids get about two weeks off every six weeks.
Holidays are taken seriously. Long after they left school and university, many French still refer to the two summer months as “les grandes vacances”, i.e. “the long holidays”, as if they could once again enjoy a worry-free life from the end of June to late August.
Of course, few people get two months off, unless they work in schools or academia. But French still tend to take off in the summer, either in July (they are nicknamed the “juilletistes”, after the name of the month, “juillet”) or the “aoûtiens” (after “August”, “août”). The very high season is usually between Bastille Day (July 14) and August 15 (Assumption of Mary) and hundreds of kilometres of traffic jams occur as French return from their holidays or are leaving for a week, two weeks or three weeks. In news speak, this is “le chassé-croisé des vacances” (vacation traffic) and much patience is required when you’re stuck on the freeway, especially on the major roads going North to South.
In Nantes, we are lucky. The seaside is only a 45-minute car ride away… or a two-hour long bus trip away. My parents don’t have wheels anymore, but we borrowed an old car from my dad’s parents. Then we figured out the fine art of driving six full-size adult and a kid to the beach and we tried to time our trip with my mum’s sister’s holidays because the more, the merrier.
And this is how ten of us ended up in the old family house in Saint-Michel. Don’t picture a fancy French villa—it’s more like a big hostel complete with mattresses on the floor, light bulbs gone dead in most rooms and a small hot water tank (“why is the water always cold when I take a shower?!”). It’s fun, though, at least for a few days.
The weather was predictably unpredictable. When it’s hot, it’s super hot. When it’s windy, it’s freezing on the beach. Typical Brittan weather. The sky at night was amazing though—clear with thousands of stars, little shiny dots far far far away.
We took long walks, played with firecrackers on the beach at night (what? Feng and I need to have fun too!), took Mark to the old-fashioned carousel and enjoyed the beach as much as we could. A slice of traditional French holidays!