August: Dead for Parisians, plenty lively for tourists

Even George Washington knows he has the place to himself in August.

Even George Washington knows he has the place to himself in August.

When I first came to Paris I was told that the city was deserted in August.  I bemusedly nodded my assent to the theory of a “group vacation” because like most Americans, it was hard to conceive of the concept of a month-long vacation at the end of summer, much less a city-wide version of one.  But in many ways, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

You come out of your flat in the morning to head to your patisserie and your morning bread fix.  But it’s closed.  So is your backup a street over.  And your third choice.  Your pharmacy is closed.  Your fruit market.  The guy who cuts your hair.  The guy who cuts your keys.  Yes, even the cobbler.  The gardien(ne)* of your building is on the act too, though in my case, she left in June for ostensibly the entire summer, leaving a very attractive substitute in her place.  You start to ask yourself, “What the heck am I doing here?  I should probably go too!”  And just like that, many years ago, the August holiday was born.

What does all this mean for you, my dear tourist?  Well, keep in mind that there are always two Parises: the tourist Paris and the working Paris.  There are major intersections of the two, like the Champs, the Tuileries, Ile de la Cite, and Jardin de Luxembourg, to name a few.  With fewer Parisans in Paris the tourists will have a bit more space to themselves, though they’ll hardly notice (Indeed, just last week I passed Sainte-Chapelle about one hour before closing and the wait to get in was at least one hour).  Yes, some restaurants and shops will be closed, but everything you’re here to see will be open.

And, if you venture out to the least touristy parts of Paris, like Canal St. Martin, Stalingrad, Montparnasse, or Pompidou, you’ll find a subdued and sleepy atmosphere that will give you an entirely different impression that the heaving bustle than the city normally offers.

I maintain that the shoulder months of May and September are the best to see Paris for a number of reasons (future article – watch this space) but the weather in August is still lovely, the sunsets are spectacular, and Versailles does water shows unavailable any other time of the year.  And this year we had the odd phenomenon of “pay what you want” hotel accommodations.

So come, and have the place to yourself.  I’m staying, because showing all of you the City of Light, rain or shine, snow or sleet, is my job, my passion, and my profession.  See you soon.

*The gardien (or gardienne if a female) of a French building is incredibly important.  He/she makes sure that maintenance is done, trash is taken out, that common areas and toilets are kept clean, and most importantly, receives your mail.  Ostensibly he/she receives free rent in exchange for the work of being the “Super” in NYC parlance.  Be nice to him/her.  They can do great favors for you that you never even knew you needed.

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