Vacationing in France is a big deal. French people have a lot of holidays, and they fully intend to use them. The minimum annual vacation is legally set at 5 weeks, but most people have anywhere from 7-10 weeks, counting extra days that they receive in exchange for working more than “35 hours a week“.
So with that many holidays, you can bet that the annual summer vacation is going to be at least 3-4 weeks. And the big question that comes with that is, are you a juillettiste or an aoûtien? As in “are you going to take your holidays in July or August”?
If it sounds like a simple question, I can assure you it is actually engrained in the fabric of French culture. There is a lot that one can imply from how you answer that questions: your preferences, your family and job situation, and more. So let’s get to this oh-so-important question that every French man/woman/child asks themselves: Julliettiste or Aoûtien? Allons-y!
Reasons to go on Holiday in July
If you are a juilletiste, you probably have several good arguments for going on holiday in July such as the following:
1) Cheaper prices
It is no secret that prices are cheaper in July across France, compared to those in August.
Let’s face it, they are cheaper still if you go away in June, before French schools are out, but that is another story. (And if you think May would be cheaper than June, it isn’t because there are a lot of public holidays in May, with French people loving something called “faire le pont“, meaning bridging multiple holidays together.)
Anyway, you will find prices slightly cheaper, and certainly more last-minute vacation options available for juilletistes.
2) Less crowded
If you are looking to spread out at the beach, you will likely want to join team juilletiste. If you are waiting in queue for a paddleboat, it will be a much shorter line. Unless you are waiting in line for the Palace of Versailles or Tour Eiffel is.
The lines to all the tourist sites, especially the ones around Paris, will be very crowded.
3) Quiet in the city when you come back
Perhaps the best part of being a July holiday-goer is that when you come back to the city, it is quite peaceful. Not much is usually accomplished at work in August with more than half the office away, so if you want to hang around the coffee machine for a good 45 minutes, you can.
You favorite restaurant and boulangerie (bakery) might be closed, but the streets are less busy and the metro less crowded.
Reasons to go on Vacation in August
Now, for the other side of the argument, you may decide to be an aoûtien instead:
1) Maximizing summer
The summer usually gets off to a slow start in France, with schools ending in the 1st week of July, and the 14 Juillet (Bastille day) public holiday. Plus the weather may or may not be that great, as it can still be quite rainy in the north of France.
But there is something about watching all your colleagues and friends go on holiday, and knowing that yours in shortly coming up as well.
As opposed to the other feeling of having been on vacation in July and back for August, and realizing that the only thing on the horizon was the rentrée in September.
And let’s face it, for people who are not quite organized, it does leave a bit more time to get your vacation plan in order.
2) Work Imposed holidays
A lot of people in France actually don’t have a choice as to when they can go on holiday, because their factories and offices may be closed for 2-3 weeks.
Certain businesses cannot operate with only half of their workforce, and so the entire business shuts down for the period. From large companies like Air France and Airbus, to small shops and restaurants, mandatory vacation is the norm in for certain employees in specific industries.
3) Coordinating with family and friends
Even if your work lets you go on vacation whenever you want, you may want to try to coordinate with friends and family. For this reason, most French people, if they grew up as an aoûtien, are not likely to suddenly change into a juilletiste.
Renting that big country house in the south of France with 3 generations of family and friends? That’s a lot of schedules to coordinate.
4) Childcare and other closures
If you have children and are looking for childcare in August, you will likely have a very difficult time.
Crêches (nurseries) are usually closed and it is a parcours de combattant (battlefield) to get a spot in one that is open. For older children, schools’ centre de loisirs are usually closed or reallocated to a public school that is not in their neighborhood.
And more critically, your child may not have the caretakers and friends that they know and who know your child. It is an added consideration, and the simple solution to this is to simply go on holiday at the same time as your regular childcare.
Navigating the traffic jams
Now that you have decided whether to be a juilletiste or aoûtien, the only thing left is to figure out how to avoid the Bison Futé. It doesn’t actually refer to large migrations of bisons rampaging south, but it could.
Many French people drive to the south of France on holiday, rather than take the TGV train, since they are transporting enough supplies and family members for 3-4 weeks.
This means nearly every weekend the traffic on the “Autoroute de Soleil” (Sunshine highway) from Paris to Provence is packed. Yes, that is the actual name of the highway.
Bison futé is an organization that publishes forecasts of traffic jams each day and in each direction, so that holidaymakers can plan appropriately. It also leads to weekends on the road called “chassé-croisé” in which one set of vacationers (aka the juilletistes) are coming back from holiday, while others (the aoûtiens) are heading down south.
Now to be clear, bison futé operates all year round, not just for summer holidays, including the winter ski holidays which are just as jam-packed. That is holidaying in France for you!
If you enjoyed that article, you may like to read more about living in Paris.
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