Heat wave, glorious heat wave!
It’s been a hot July, one of the hottest ever recorded. This month, I toured around France for two weeks with a group of brave travelers: We never got a break, and the heat wave was our daily companion from Paris to the Loire Valley, in Lyon, Annecy and the French Alps, at le Pont du Gard, and all the way to Avignon and Nice. When I got home, the weather had cooled down, and we all breathed a sigh of relief. Pas si vite ! Not so fast! La canicule (the heat wave) returns tomorrow.
Que faire ? What to do? France does a lot of things well. Heat waves are not one of them. Air conditioning is not that common here. Many people still believe it makes you sick (don’t ask.) They also believe it is detrimental to the environment. On the bright side, we’ve had a lot of practice with heat waves in recent years.
A 1970s commercial used to claim: “En France, on n’a pas de pétrole, mais on a des idées” (In France, we don’t have oil, but we have ideas.) As a side note, we also have fans (stores are selling out fast,) thick stone walls and heavy shutters (not the decorative types routinely found on the façades of suburban American châteaux,) that can be kept closed throughout the day. What else? Allons-y: Let’s see those brilliant ideas.
Le brumisateur: French air-conditioning
I was surprised to see most of our North American clients had never used those, except occasionally, on an airplane. I have watched French mothers spray water on their children using this ingenious device, at the beach or at the local park, for years. Many women keep one in their handbag in the summer. The cans come in several sizes for that reason. The method is simple, yet it works: Who would not like to feel a fine, refreshing mist (la brume, in French,) of mineral water on their face, neck, or arms on a hot day? (Pro tip: Leave le brumisateur in the fridge overnight; take it out in the morning; enjoy!)
Where do you find a brumisateur? Pharmacies. Supermarkets. Monoprix. Can you make your own? Sure. It will be cheaper. It just won’t be… pretty (you know how much we, Frenchies, pay attention to aesthetics in daily life.)
Les fontaines (water fountains)
From the iconic Wallace fountains to more modern versions, dispensing flat (or sparkling) water, Paris and other French cities make it easy to refill your water bottle and stay hydrated. In the French capital, locate over 1200 fountains on this website or try the excellent iPhone app les Fontaines de Paris. You might be surprised at how many different types are available. Worried about water quality? Don’t be. Public water is scrutinized and tested on a regular basis all over the country. The water coming out of the fountains is the same water you enjoy on restaurant tables when ordering (as all visitors in the know, do) une carafe d’eau. Tip: French cemeteries and small neighborhood squares (gardens and parks) are a great place to find fountains. To be on the safe side, look out for the sign eau non potable (non-drinking water.) Only use that water to rinse off your sandals after walking along the dusty Tuileries gardens. Poor André le Nôtre, the Sun King’s main landscaper, had not anticipated millions of promeneurs – and the occasional delivery truck – would mess with the sparkling fine sand he laid out in the gardens’ main sections, projecting a thick layer of dust on plants, shoes, and nearby monuments.
In Paris, local authorities have been setting up additional fountains hastily. I like the ones offering a top brumisateur (like the can I carry in my handbag, except bigger.) It’s a lot of fun to watch kids run through them, or tourists getting surprised when they push the wrong button to fill their water bottle!
So… no air conditioning in France, then?
Oui et non. It’s there, just not as… efficient and cold as you may be used to at home. Some restaurants and boutiques use the promise of air conditioning to entice customers.
Other businesses clearly remember the old 1970s commercial and come up with creative ways of cooling off. They have to: French windows (especially in older buildings in the trendy Haut Marais,) make things more… complicated. They are French after all! This is what a portable air-conditioning unit looks like chez nous. Vive la France!
See you on the other side in a few days! In the meantime, if anyone needs me, look for that shady spot, and a glass of… water. That’s where I’ll be.
A native’s musings on life in the “real” France.
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Even though I live in the south of France, near Carcassonne, I rarely wish for air conditioning. Not having it helps me acclimate my body to the heat (I previously lived on the equator for two years and it was very true there–I’d be swaddled in blankets when the temperatures dropped below 17C). During the canicule, yes, it’s just too hot, but we slow down, close the shutters on the sunny side of the house and drink lots of water. Long soaks in the pool in the evening help sleep (nobody here has A/C but almost everybody has a pool, even if it’s a small above-ground kit). Remembering to put the reflective shade in the windshield when I park. My biggest problem is that the heat makes my computer shut down. Chômage technique.
In fact, what irks me are the shops with A/C and their doors wide open. I know it’s to tempt passersby with the gust of cool air, but it seems so wasteful.
Oui il fait chaud en France, mais je me souviens de les grosse chaleur en Algerie!! Des bons souvenirs en famille!!
Tres chaud en Californie en ce moment aussi!
Bonjour Michelle. J’ai l’impression qu’il fait chaud partout en ce moment! A bientôt.
All good observations, thank you Catherine. My family has always lived without A/C, and from Algeria to Montpellier, and Toulouse, in pretty “hot” areas. I find the heat difficult to put up with, and after 23 years in the US, have been exposed to A/C more often than they have. For that reason, I was surprised to do as well as I did when touring with my last group for two weeks. I still had to give orientation walks in cities when we arrived, typically in the afternoon and did my best to find shady spots, but the group and I bravely forged through. Granted we had air conditioned hotel rooms welcoming us back at night. Back at my humble Parisian abode under rooftops, I only have a fan to help out, and no thick walls or heavy shutters to keep it cool (not to mention a pool!) Fingers crossed. A bientôt.
Since I am here in Paris for the next week with my granddaughters, I truly appreciate all this terrific advice. However, nothing can or will spoil our absolute enjoyment of your city! Thank you for this very timely post! Andi
Avec plaisir Andi . Bon séjour à Paris!
Merci pour ce merveilleux post, Vero. Thank you for a wonderful post. My heart goes out to you having to endure that stunning heat. Hopefully, it is very short. Stay cool and have fun showing visitors how much fun those public brumisateurs can be. (I’ve never seen one, but they look like a hoot!) Encore, merci. Brume sur!
Ha. Merci beaucoup Dave! So far, so good! We have survived “Day 1” of la canicule…
Loved this, as I always love your thoughts! When I first saw your photo though, I thought your Vittel-Menthe looked so green! Am I just not remembering how green they are, or do you take extra Menthe in yours? Sure is pretty!!
The problem with Vittel Menthe is that you are at the mercy of the waiter/waitress’s “pour” when ordering. The glass comes with mint syrup already in it. Sometimes, they have, “la main lourde,” (they are heavy handed) and put too much syrup. At that point, you have two options: Keep filling your glass with water and drinking (by the second glass, things are back to normal.) Option 2: Discreetly pour mint syrup out of the glass on the sidewalk nearby to adjust to your liking. I was so hot and thirsty that day I went with Option 1. 😉
Oh gosh, my dad used to have one of those portable AC things in his office at home. On the plus side, it worked. And it worked well! On the other side, it was bulky, loud, and Obnoxious. He tried to put it on the side by the wall to not take up so much space, but it was just an eyesore. I feel like calling him up and saying they’re still in use ! 🙂
You should call your dad! He probably has fond memories of his own “contraption.” 🙂 A bientôt.
Great story about keeping cool in the summer heat. Loved the pictures of the fountains and the brumisateurs (good to know)!
Yes, good to know… Something tells me we will be using all these fountains again soon.