Taking time to be part of life, to enjoy it, to work it, to make the most of it, is definitely a French way of life. It is an aspect of the culture here that I have discovered, am trying to understand better and embrace.
I suspect my perspective of the French use of time may be a definite outsiders view. That is, if you asked someone French, I suspect they will simply say they do with their time what most people do, without really thinking about it. They wouldn’t realise it may be different from the way others do. Like most of us wouldn’t realise. But having lived in the USA and UK, I can clearly see a difference.
The French (and yes, I am generalising) have a confidence and strength in themselves. They are quite specific in what is important in their life. Family first, then taking time for oneself, work, friends, neighbours… The latter may vary in order, but like them or loathe them, family is always first.
I am in awe of their ability to recognise limitations of time, to understand what is important to them, and to stick to their convictions. They are amazing at applying their time wisely and with focus. It’s something I have found in everyone I have met here.
Are the French Lazy?
A family member of mine once said he thought the French were lazy, just because they took a long lunch break. Seriously!?!? (Tsk tsk tsk) Like many people he equated long hours at work with success, work ethic and worth.
The French don’t work all hours, but they do work hard. I think they invented the whole ‘Work Life Balance’ thing. What I love here is that the same respect is given to time in other areas as to work time. Work is not touted above all else. This makes a lot of sense to me, as work is not a constant, whether in type or duration as compared to other areas of life.
Time is related to money
It’s not that money doesn’t matter here. Of course it does. However, it is not about how much you earn, but what you spend it on. It’s a quality over quantity lifestyle.
If a lot of money is spent on some thing, prime examples are a house or car, then it deserves a good portion of your time to make the spend worthwhile. Therefore a lot of time is spent on maintaining or fixing the home or taking care of and cleaning the car. Seriously, you have never seen such queues at car washes as in France on a Saturday.
It’s an early rising culture, particularly here in the country. (Hooray for me, as I have finally become an early riser. Something I have always wanted to be and now thanks to living here *and ducks* I am.) Most start work at 7 or 8am. Lunch break is anywhere from an hour to 3 hours, depending on type of work and location, as lunch is the main (read cooked) meal of the day. But for those who scorn the long lunch break, it is offset by working later in the evening, finishing 6, 7 or 8pm.
And in consequence, it’s an early to bed culture. It’s rare to see people out and above after dark, or 8pm if it is still light. Most everything shuts by 8, including those French shutters. Even weekends are not late nights, though places do stay open a little longer. Some even as late as 11pm! Though none in our village.
Taking time to…
Time at work is just that time at work. When you come home, you leave work behind. You shift your focus. If you are lucky enough to have a long lunch break, the additional time might be spent at home during it catching up on gardening, or that book, or a nap.
Evenings might offer a quick evenings gathering, an Apero, with family or friends. An evenings promenade in fine weather, a movie or tv if not. Weekends are for family gatherings, chores, sports and hobbies.
I love that our neighbour, who is 85 and lives alone, seems to always have visitors, both family and friends. And if they are not visiting, she is elsewhere doing the visiting. Almost every weekend some generation of her family comes to visit, to do some gardening, mow, clean, build something new, cook a meal, taker her out… And yet she still always makes time to say hello and have a little chat each time we see each other.
And she is not the only one. There is a very real community of gatherings, individual and group, of all ages here. Oh, and we musn’t forget the gossip. It’s almost impossible to have a secret in a village. Yet, on the flip side, it’s hard to be lonely in our village. Maybe after all, that is really what taking time the French way means. Taking time is taking care.
More French Findings
If you enjoyed our dip into French Culture and would like to read more of our French Findings…