On Saturday, we went to lunch with some neighbors at a restaurant that had an indoor air-conditioned room and an outside terrace. Indoors was so noisy that Michael opted for outdoors, thinking (correctly) that the noise would cause problems for me. Outdoors, it was very hot, sweating hot, though we were sitting in the shade. Over the course of a long and typically good french lunch, we saw a lot of patrons come and go. About half sat outdoors, and after a while, I was struck by the fact that wasn't something we'd likely see in the States--unless of course the restaurant had a misting machine or some other way to cool down the outdoor tables.
Another thing you wouldn't see at home is one of the groups of people who came for lunch, all of them employees at the local hardware chain. All wearing their Castorama uniforms, they were clearly there on their lunch break. It didn't seem to be a special celebration, just a regular work day going out to lunch. Now, I'm not sure what Castorama pays, but I'm guessing that they each spent several hours of pay on lunch that day.
All that got me to thinking about the number of stores in this vacation-destination area that shut down during the biggest vacation months of the year so the owners can take their own vacations. Most US visitors who come here, and see the signs that the owners are on vacation while the town is crawling with potential customers, comment on this. We are often struck by it ourselves.
This is all a variant, I think, on enoughness: choices to put quality of life over "just" money. So the hourly hardware store workers value quality of lunch with each other and the store owners value their vacations, all more than money. It's one of the things that distinguishes France from the US and it's a healthy kind of enoughness to think about. Even sitting in the heat was a choice about quality of life--our neighbors don't really like air conditioning for the quality of the air it produces, though they have, in recent years, broken down and gotten an air-conditioned car, as it's gotten warmer and warmer here in the summers. Europe is having another "unusual" heat wave, though since we've had one of these unusual heat waves every year now for the last three or four years, they seem less and less unusual to me. For everyone else, it's about a society that isn't pervasively air-conditioned--yet. Here, only the chain stores have AC and few homes. So the heat is just a part of life, and it means that you slow down a bit and that you're hot. We went to see the new Harry Potter movie, the last time one came out, and had the lovely experience of being able to sit through a whole movie without sweaters or being cold. The theater had fans moving the air, and the place was large enough, and without windows that it probably retained a lot of its cool air, but it wasn't air-conditioned at all. So far, at least, that's the norm, though we see AC units moving into more and more offices. Even then, though, it's not central, and the cooling isn't to subzero; it's limited to directly around the desks of the people who are present, and only moderates, doesn't completely remove the heat. It's just enough to make it possible to wear professional summer clothes.
Is it only possible to acquire this sense of enoughness if the whole society around you is doing it? We see pockets of change at home, in the locavore, slow food, big-enough house movements in the US, but still, anyone who closed their business during the tourist high season, or chose to sit outside in a heat wave would stand out. Are there lessons to be learned from all this? How, and what are they?
postscript: Michael points out that I haven't grappled with another element present here, which is a sense of entitlement, which is true. I'm not actually that interested in that part, so it's easy for me to overlook it, though it clearly requires some more thought. That would be for another later, as they say.