In recent years, Parisian summers have faced rapidly rising temperatures that can nearly bring this metropolis to a standstill. The French call it the dreaded canicule, which translates roughly as the dog days of a heatwave. This summer has been no exception. Although the past month and a half has been delightfully frigid, the last week has brought ravaging heat that can make daily commute, activity, and work unbearable. Here are some cooling tips I can offer after making it through a week of la canicule.
Pass some time in groceries, museums, or cathedrals.
Paris being both a historic city of pre-war buildings and also a relatively environmentally-conscious city that makes every effort to minimize excessive pollution refused the cool wave of air-conditioning that swept through the United States. This means finding a public space to cool off can be a real challenge. While you can’t exactly linger in a grocery store, it doesn’t hurt to shop a little more or head to a museum where the art is always kept cool. Some friends and I took refuge in a local grocery that offered seating for us to get some homework done without sweating it out in one of the sunny parks. Similarly, the nature of cathedral architecture is very well-suited to maintaining the cool with their high ceilings and stone construction. As I’ve said before, the beauty and history of French cathedrals makes them wonderful places to sit and reflect, while simultaneously offering a momentary respite from the heat.
Find a fountain with l’eau potable.
While Paris offers few public restrooms or drinking fountains, sometimes you can stumble across fountains with drinking water. You have the best chance of finding one by popping into a park and looking around. They’re usually iron fountains with signs declaring their water safe to drink and are usually low to the ground so children can use them too. Without the air-conditioning, it’s easier to get dehydrated, so fill up a bottle and keep hydrating throughout the day.
Close the blinds, open the windows.
This one can be tricky. In my apartment, the only way you could close the blind was if you first closed the window. This meant choosing between the sun beating down on me or shutting out the breeze that could only flow in through the open window. I was able to engineer a little bit to block out the sun with the top of the blind but also keep the window open enough to let a bit of the breeze sneak in. Without air-conditioning, it’s important to remember that you have to keep too much sunlight from getting in during the day and getting trapped in the room. Fans are also not especially common here because of their energy consumption but definitely handy to have when la canicule strikes.
Break out the shorts.
France is known for dressing modestly and frequently with more layers than the weather calls for. In other words, wearing shorts is uncommon, even for students. Parisians wear pants, long dresses, and capris, but shorts (especially as short of ones as Americans often wear) are unusual and give off the impression of immodesty. La canicule, however, changes even the most entrenched fashion habits. Parisians have brought out their long unused shorts and sundresses to keep cool during the sweltering high noon. I was glad to not stand out as an American wearing my own shorts, without which I would not be enduring the heat nearly as well.
Wait for the sweet 60s to come back.
While it was definitely strange to wear sweaters and long pants in June, I preferred it to the unending heatwave that is la canicule. It doesn’t seem like we’ll be returning to those chilly temps anytime soon, but the heat seems to be receding into more normal summer temperatures as the week continues. I can only imagine what July and August will bring Paris.
As European heatwaves continue to become more frequent and more severe, it’s important to keep in mind that spending time in Paris during the summer will likely mean encountering la canicule. While the lack of air-conditioning and shorts-wearing has certainly been a cultural adjustment, experiencing a heatwave has really helped us to bond with Parisians and feel like part of the community as we all struggle through the heat together.
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<p>Hi there! I'm a psychology and French student setting out on a dream to explore Paris. Some of my favorite things include working with kids, writing stories, and giving tours of my campus back home.</p>