The Happiness in Paris experiment – part three: living on French time

Happiness in Paris - Musee DOrsay Clock Image image My French Life - Ma Vie FrançaiseThe next part of the ‘Happiness in Paris’ experiment is based on the clock.

Time flies, they say. Time is money, we’re told. We must try to save time, make time. Use our time wisely. We watch the clock, and try to beat it.

And yet, the cost of free time is ever increasing and we have no spare time to spare. And whilst limited time is a universal condition, I believe that attitude to time is essentially cultural.

So what, then, is the French approach to time?

Back in January I started my ‘Happiness In Paris’ experiment. One of the behaviours I vowed to embrace was ‘staying up late on Sunday nights’.

Pourquoi ? Let’s take a closer look at French time…

The culture of time in France and beyond

Basket-of-Clocks-Image-image-My-French-Life-Ma-Vie-FrançaiseWhen I worked in the British West Indies the locals would joke about ‘Bahamas time’. While I stood around wringing my hands because the baggage handlers hadn’t turned up for their shift, old Snake Eyes (the island’s resident bus-driving-fruit-selling-undefeated-domino-champion) would smile and say “They be here when they be ready.”

As a habitual planner, this extent of laissez-faire time mentality drove me nuts.

In France, though, time is not completely forgotten. Indeed, the French can be highly attuned to time in certain situations; as the hour of the last metro approaches, or on Sunday mornings, before the supermarkets close.

Beyond this, however, time is a secondary concern.

Rushing around the French capital and how it contributes to ‘happiness in Paris’

You could be forgiven for thinking that everyone in Paris is obsessed with time. Pushing and shoving, and general hurriedness fill the metro corridors; and I’m among them.

When I live in Australia, I’m perpetually early, sacrificing fifteen minutes of extra sleep here, a slowly sipped cup of tea there, all in the pursuit of not-lateness.

But, as anyone who’s ever scheduled a 10am meeting with a French person knows, rituals like the morning coffee break are sacred.

Happiness in Paris - Metro Rush Image image My French Life - Ma Vie Française

If you ask me, the rushing around the streets and on transport is a result of squeezing every last second of happiness out of the activities on either side.

A sprint through the labyrinth of Saint-Lazare station means time for a second glass of wine before the theatre; and arriving at the office at 9.15am instead of 9.00am might be the time taken to prepare breakfast for one’s spouse.

French time and happiness

From making time for mid-week aperos, to summer evenings that stretch out endlessly, and the untapped pocket of time that hides in Sunday nights; the French approach time without fear or trepidation.

In the past, Sunday nights were strictly quiet nights in. It was time reserved for finishing the washing and the housework (using time wisely), preparing dinners for the week ahead (saving time) and getting a good night’s sleep (getting a head-start on time). All of which meant that from around 4pm on a Sunday, my weekend was effectively over.

Happiness in Paris - #55 - Time

Gandhi said: “There is more to life than increasing its speed.” So, with this in mind, I’ve started doing the unthinkable: inviting friends over for Sunday night dinner. It’s a strictly comfort food-and-clothes affair, where calorie counting and clock-watching are equally forbidden.

The difference?

The washing doesn’t get done. I wake on Monday morning to a sink full of dishes. I start my week less than fresh thanks to the second bottle of Côtes de Gascogne we opened around midnight.

And, I can’t stop smiling. Not only have I reclaimed eight hours of my weekend, but my new tradition makes Sunday nights something worth staying up late for.

Have you noticed these differences? Do you have a preference? Share your comments with us below!

Read more on the ‘Happiness in Paris’ experiment:
Part 1: introduction
Part 2: writing in cafés
Part 3: living on French time (this page)
Part 4: health and well-being
Part 5: living vicariously
Part 6: helping others

Image Credits:
1. Clock at Musée d’Orsay, by Maarten Dirkse via Flickr.
2. Paris, passage du Grand Cerf, clocks. Compter le temps, by Jeanne Menjoulet & Cie via Flickr.
3. Métro Paris, by LoboStudio Hamburg via Flickr.
4. #55 – Time, by JohnONolan via Flickr.

About the Contributor

Alison Eastaway

“I am Australian-born but Parisienne at heart. I've spent 8 years in Paris, and can usually be found sipping coffee on café terraces or snuggling up with my cat and a book. Follow me on Twitter, or find me on LinkedIn."

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  1. Sandra E Brown Mar 27, 2014 at 3:05 PM - Reply

    Very interesting article Alison. Everyday at 3.00 pm my brain tells me that it’s time to start slowing down, packing up the day and preparing for the night. At 3.00! Don’t start anything new now because you only have 7 hours before you go to bed! Crazy mentality and something I’m trying to break out of as it’s reducing my days by half.

    • Alison Eastaway Mar 28, 2014 at 1:24 AM - Reply

      Hi Sandra, thanks for your insightful comment (as always)! I know exactly what you mean, I think I first broke the habit during my first Parisian summer, with sunlight until 10pm you lose track in the most glorious of ways 🙂

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