The Grand Vacations: July and August in France

The French love their holidays. There are lots of them scattered throughout the year but July and August are the months of les grandes vacances, or the “grand vacations”. Most people take two to three weeks off in either July or August. Those who vacation in July are called juillettists (pronounced jwee-yeah-teest) and those who take August holidays are called aoûtiens (pronounced ah-oo-sian). For the sake of simplicity, we’ll call them Julyists and Augustians.

July and August in FranceClosed for Vacation
With everyone on holiday, business really slows down in July and is almost non-existent in August (except for tourism, of course). So if you are in France and need to get some kind of administrative paperwork done during these months, don’t frustrate yourself, just relax and go to the beach with everyone else because nothing is going to get done until September.

But business didn’t always grind to a halt in July and August. Before 1936 few people, other than government employees, had paid time off. Then in 1936 there were general strikes throughout France and one of the demands was for a paid holiday. The government finally decided that it was healthy for people to have a few weeks off work to relax and that their work would improve because of it.

Vacation? What to do?
On June 20, 1936, a law was passed that gave every salaried employee two weeks of paid leave. A few weeks later, on the first of August, all salaried employees were on holiday. For many, it was the first one of their lives.

They went to the countryside and the seaside. Initially, these overworked French people weren’t sure what one did on holiday, so they just watched the rich for a while and started to imitate them. They were fast learners and soon they were sitting in the sun drinking cool drinks. They were getting the hang of vacationing and they liked it.

Pack up the carHoliday car
In the 1950s, when a third week of vacation time was added and automobiles were widely owned, the French started packing up their cars and travelling across the country (mostly heading south) for their “grand vacations”. This was the birth of mass tourism which lead to the first “grand traffic-jams”.

In the 1960s, a fourth week of vacation time was added, then in the 1980s a fifth. As holidays grew longer, workers were often given a choice of when to take their time off. They divided into two camps: those who took their breaks in July and those who vacationed in August. Today, July and August are still the two most active months for people going on holiday. And every year, the weekend with the biggest traffic jams is when the Julyists, who are returning home cross paths with the Augustians who are leaving on holiday. These massive jams are known as the chassé-croisé after a dance where the partners continually cross in front of each other.

Of course, not everyone participates in this dance because not everyone gets paid time off. It only applies to salaried employees so those who are self-employed or not salaried don’t get paid holidays. And not all employees get to choose their holiday date either. Some businesses (almost 40%) close for the month of August and all their employees have no choice but to be Augustians.

French holidays in July or AugustBut for those who are salaried and do have a holiday choice, it seems that their choice might say something about their outlook on life and work. In the larger companies, at least, some stereotypes have developed over the years for these two groups, with Augustians being seen as putting work before pleasure and the Julyists as just wanting to have fun.

But times are changing and the old stereotypes aren’t as valid as they once might have been. Fewer people are taking long holidays and many factors enter into their choice of dates. But July and August are still the favourite months for the “grand vacations” and there are still those who are very attached to their preferred month.

The Julyists and the Augustians may disagree on the best month to take a holiday, but they do agree on the best location. The largest percentage of both groups prefer to holiday at the sea side.

And there is one other point on which they can agree: The people who take their holidays in September are really strange!  Which reminds me… I’m taking my holiday in September this year.  I’m going to Italy to study Italian again so my posts may be less frequent for the next few months.  Hope you have had (and are still having) a wonderful summer!

Margo Curious Rambler Signature

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15 thoughts on “The Grand Vacations: July and August in France

  1. Thanks for this one Margo. I had wondered why August was such a ‘no go zone’ in August, but had never really found out. Friends just told me that it is the traditional holiday time, so I make sure never to be in France in August. The trouble is that, being Australian, August is the best month to go to France to escape the winter here! I go in September now ( leaving on the 2nd this year!), but it is a pity as the weather is so nice here in September!
    Best wishes with your Italian ‘top up’ course.
    Paula

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    • Hi Paula. I think August is fine for tourists to come to France – well, I guess it depends on where you are going. Some people actually prefer Paris in August because all the Parisians are away and it is more relaxed. In the South, where I am, it’s packed with tourists and pretty hot but it’s really only inconvenient for those who live here and need to get “normal” things done. Maybe if you were visiting rural areas the local businesses (like maybe the boulangerie) might be closed, but other than that, I would encourage you to give August a try. There’s a lot going on in tourist areas in August because, of course, it’s holiday time.
      Thanks for writing. All the best ~Margo

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  2. Thank you for your historical explanation of the summer exodus. The fifth week was introduced so that everyone could go on skiing holidays of course and arrived at the same time as the 39-hour work week after the Socialists were voted back in after a long period of absence. The maximum number of days in a row is 24 working days (minimum 12 days) so the fifth week must be taken separately.
    Also you can get an extra two days if you take at least 6 days of your paid holidays outside a pre-determined summer period and one day if you take 3 to 5 days outside that period. It’s longer than vacation in the US of course. My daughter, brought up in Paris, has just moved to NY. I’m not sure she’ll survive the lack of holidays!

    May I include this post in my Weekly Blogger Round-Up?

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    • Hi Rosemary. Thanks for all that additional information. Sounds like it can get pretty complicated managing all that vacation time. 😉 Good luck to your daughter, as the normal holiday time in the US is about 2 weeks per year – and that depends on your employer. I think I’ve been won over by the French system, although I don’t participate in it (I’m retired). I think it’s healthy to keep work and recreation in balance.
      And, of course, I would be greatly honored to be in your Weekly Blogger Round-Up.
      Thank you so much. Best ~Margo

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  3. And that’s why I am staying put in Paciano for August. Like you, I never travel during the summer..living here gives us the option to pick and choose when. Glad to hear you are coming back to Italy to study. Where and for how long. BY THE WAY, I am taking skype lessons with my original fab teacher who lives about 3 hrs away. She is excellent and out of all the ones I have sampled,,she is still the best. I can send you info for when you are back in France if you want to continue. Have a wonderful holiday and warmest regards to Jeff.

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    • I’ll be in Florence (my favourite city in the world) the month of September. Maybe we can get together some time if you are free. I would appreciate the details of your Skype teacher. I think that is the way to go. I take Skype lessons in French and I really love it.
      Hope to see you soon.
      Baci e Abbracci!

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  4. This is the scene I imagine when I call to try to get something done in August.
    Those poor people manning the offices in August who have so much to do, never manage to get anything done. Why is that? 🙂

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  5. Pingback: Weekly Blogger Round-Up: July & August in France – Wines from the French Riviera – Cruising on the Canal du Rhône | Aussie in France

  6. I found your blog through Aussie in France’s weekly round-up. I love your post and how you’ve explained the history behind les grandes vacances. I found it very interesting! I stayed in Paris for the month of August, and am so happy that my boulangerie finally re-opened a few days ago…as well as other favorite places. I love the energy and excitement that comes with la rentrée as everyone comes back to town!

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    • Hello Sara, I’m glad you are enjoying your time in Paris. I’m sure things will become more lively now that September has rolled around. (Plus it will be easier to get your morning croissant.) 🙂 Enjoy the rentrée.
      All the best. -Margo

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  7. It’s the many seemingly random, and sometimes regional ferie, often confusticate me. I’m living in the north “Chez les Ch’tis”, so relearning my (out of date, due to my French teacher talking in regional French from WWII, when he was in the débarquement) secondary school French slightly complicated by needing to learn a dialect and understand an accent at same time, biloute. My fiancée speaks excellent English, and with many Scottish friends both on Facebook and in the real world, can even understand a little of my ramblings if lapse into Ulster/Scots. However it is beyond her capabilities in either language why France has so many holidays. Often after confused pensive conversation in French, English, and the eternal Franglais, it is often a subject abandoned, and conversation finished with “Umm fondamentalement France est fermée aujourd’hui.” We all know after a while living here there is no answer, as it’s the usual “C’est un chose Francaise”, it’s France and it’s been like that for a long time, so it doesn’t need explanation, especially to us nul Anglos. Some days when exasperated i do have the habit of asking the belovéd Pascale sarcastically, “Is France open today ma petite oiseau?”, especially in July and August. Bon weekend a tous.

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  8. Your right, it does seem like there are lots of holidays – Mainly in May, July, and August. I’m just in the process of putting together a little book talking about some of the holidays in France. It should be out soon – maybe it will give you a bit of insight into some of these mysteries. But basically, July and August are just “hit and miss”.
    Best of luck to you on speaking Ch’tis – normal French is tough enough fo me.

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  9. Have got to stage one or two locals think i’m just one of them with a speech impediment, and the Bretons think i’m a “nordist” when visit the beautiful Morbihan, to see sis in law to be. Local post office opening hours, as the PMUs are just as hard to figure out. As know yourself, many local bureau de Postes, small shops and businesses, are run more like hobbies and past times, than normal businesses, and open and close when they take a notion. Just yet another joy of the different laid back attitude. Drives me nuts at times, but i’m here to stay. Bonne journée et merci pour le blog Margo.

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