April in Paris?: A Striking Analysis

by a scientist who is a Paris native and who requests anonymity

Seasoned visitors to the City of Light always factor in their travel plans the two most prevalent facts of life in France: vacations and strikes. Fortunately, school vacation periods are scheduled in advance with clockwork regularity. Strikes may be nearly as predictable. This preliminary study suggests a strong correlation between occurrences of the two.

(Image credit: Flickr user Trey Ratcliff)

The right to protest and demonstrate in France is a fundamental part of life, and not limited to the employed. In fact, foreign visitors in Paris in December 1997 might have witnessed a somewhat surreal event: hundreds of unemployed people on strike, demonstrating in the streets, demanding an end-of-the-year bonus.

But if there is one thing the strikers will not sacrifice, it is their hard earned (and constitutional right to) vacations. Witness the school teachers who went on strike in May of 2003, suspended the strike at the end of June for their summer break, and came back at the beginning of the next school year, in September, to resume the strike. Indeed, major issues had remained unresolved.

Needless to say, strikes are very unlikely in July and August (summer break), as at least three quarters of the workforce are away on vacation, and so is most of the government. At this time of the year, Paris is populated with tourists and the grumpy quarter of Parisians who got stuck at work while the others are chilling out on the Riviera or camping in Normandy. (This might be an explanation for the poor image of Parisians tourists tend to have, but that is a topic for another study).

In September vacationers come back in town, broke, to find out that the cost of living (public transportations, food, gas, etc.) has gone up while they were gone. Vacationers have to go back to work, days are getting shorter and the weather is worsening. Expect strikes from mid-September to beginning of October. Not too late in October, though, because that would interfere with the first school break (All Saints break, from end of October to beginning of November).

The next high occurrence period is mid-December, when the days are getting really short, the weather is downright miserable and people feel broke and start worrying about the holidays. Some privileged categories of indispensable workers regularly threaten to go on strike during the holidays, but generally the issues get resolved in time for everyone to enjoy the end-of-year festivities.

In January and February, the outdoors activity on everybody’s mind is winter sports. Two school vacations, the winter break (late February to mid-March), and the spring break (mid-April to early May), help Parisians survive until the return of warm weather. Everyone is relaxed from the last break, and the anticipation of the next. There is hardly any time left in between to get back to work, let alone sneak in a little strike or protest.

(Image credit: Flickr user malias)

May–June is quite a complex period, due to the number and distribution of holidays in May. May 1st is Labor Day and May 8th is the WWII armistice. In a good year both occur on Monday or Friday, providing two long weekends. On an excellent year, they occur on Tuesday or Thursday, and with the “ponts” (“free” non-working days granted to bridge one-day gaps between holidays and week-ends) that’s two four-day weekends. Ascension Day comes 39 days after Easter, and that is a Thursday in May. In an excellent year, that Thursday does not coincide with the other holidays, and that’s another light week (or very long weekend). In fact, in a really good year, an employee can get the whole month of May off by taking about 10 official vacation days. Of course, even in France, not everyone can do that at the same time, so about half the people are away, and the other half are stuck at work, a day or two per week, and not doing much anyways.

When June comes, the weather becomes really pleasant, the Roland-Garros Tennis tournament (French Open, end of May to beginning of June) signals that the end of the school year is close, the summer vacations are around the corner and everybody is eager to get outdoors. After the end of the French Open, expect major protests with demonstrations en masse. This is the favorite time of the year for students to take to the streets (as end-of-the year exams approach). The strikes and demonstrations will most likely stop on time for Parisians to travel to their favorite summer spot come July.

Note that on a bad year, the May holidays coincide with weekends. The French feel cheated: expect the pre-summer protests to start earlier (although demonstrations are unlikely during Roland-Garros).

(Image credit: Flickr user Les Hutchins)

So this is why April is clearly the best time to visit Paris: the weather might not be great yet, but the chance of major social disturbances is low, and the Parisians, either coming back from a vacation or about to go on a vacation, are likely in the best mood they’ll be in all year.


This article is republished with permission from the May-June 2008 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. You can download or purchase back issues of the magazine, or subscribe to receive future issues. Or get a subscription for someone as a gift!

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French unions dream of bringing down governments with their incessant striking. Especially a president who is not a Lefty. It's all about a very small number of people wanting power and the recent strikes over a silly two-year difference in early retirement age was beyond ridiculous. What a union member has been ''given'' must never be taken away. It doesn't matter that life expectancy is now longer and work conditions have improved greatly. They see themselves as still living their grandfathers' work lives, downtrodden and exploited. The union bosses are all TV stars, well-off, with great retirement packages. Long live the unions!
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This is a secret? Has no one heard the song "I Love Paris (in the Springtime)"? I visited Paris last year in April and it was indeed amazing. But I don't think it's a secret to anyone.
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I am honestly very surprised there has been no ill informed anti-union and anti-strike comments yet!

Whenever people do strike it is always for very good reasons, and only go on as long as the managers do not agree with the conditions the strikers have proposed.
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