There is a common misconception that Paris shuts down during the month of August, that it becomes a ghost town abandoned to tourists while Parisians all flee to country homes and nude beaches.
Some people speak as though the Paris of August weren’t really Paris at all but instead some illusory city, a movie set without the actors, everyone having moved on, leaving behind, like croissant crumbs for the ants, a handful of monuments and museums that no one who lives here would go to anyway. Some foreigners so want to identify with Parisians (God only knows why) that they’ll trash their fellow countrymen in order to feel a part of it all, telling friends back home that only the lowest of lowly tourists would find anything to enjoy about Paris in August. They tell horror stories of having to walk a kilometer to find a fresh baguette, the snob’s version of once having walked 3 miles to school in the snow.
Paris does indeed start winding down after July 14 and some quarters (particularly those whose residents actually do own country homes) can be quite zen for the first three weeks in August. But Paris in August is still Paris, just a calmer, kinder, less anxious, less pretentious version of Paris in September. August is Paris’s tranquil season, its month of Sundays, one of the many seasons of the city, each subtly different and with its own pleasures, surprises, and particularities. If Paris has been abandoned to tourists then I’m happy to be one of them.
Of course some of those sophisticated restaurants, bakeries, and chocolate shops that your favorite guidebook, newspaper or magazine has touted may indeed be closed for several weeks, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid Paris but rather that you should ditch the guidebook and the glossy magazines.
All the advice you need to enjoy Paris in August can be summed up as follows:
I suppose that one could also add: bike, jog, play tennis, relax, picnic, read, discover unheralded restaurants, strike up conversations, beware of pickpockets, attend an outdoor concert, dance the tango on water’s edge, etc., and perhaps love will come of it too.
If you want to go full-out Julia Roberts and add “pray” to the list then you can do so in the hope that you’ll never need a locksmith or plumber or root canal in August in Paris—though the same holds true elsewhere in France.
Paris in August is still Paris. Before you know it everyone will be back, and those bakeries and chocolate shops and restaurants the foodies rave about will be open again, with slightly higher prices in the belief that no one will remember what they paid for anything in July.
Did I mention that I was going into the Pyrenees for part of the month? Well you didn’t think I was going to hang around Paris all month, did you? I’ve found nice little village where I can walk, sit, eat, drink, laugh, sleep, and all the other great verbs of summer. Julia Roberts, eat/pray/love your heart out.
© 2010, Gary Lee Kraut