One Thursday, I gave a concert of jazz and love songs on a bar boat on the Seine. One of my audience brought a visitor from Israel who asked me if the weekend wouldn’t be a better time. “The weekends start on Thursday here,” I replied. “Oh but of course the French don’t work do they?” He slapped his forehead in recollection of the easy lifestyle of the average French person. Thanks to the 35 hour week Thursday is the new Friday in France and the voluble stress release seems to make Friday a rather quiet night in comparison.
As I bike home from a Thursday session at the swimming pool, I pass bars bulging with whooping and squeaking “workers”. These bars have boards outside announcing “Happy Hour” from 17h to 20h, or in one case at Les Halles, from 15h to 21h. They list cocktails at 5 Euros. Cocktails you may ask? In the land of wine? ‘Fraid so: Margaritas, Pino Coladas, Tequila Sunrises and other exotic mixes seem to be the popular beverage. But are the Happy Hour drinkers happy? If noise levels are anything to go by, yes, they are ecstatic.
At El Tonel, the Spanish bar at the foot of my building, there is no ‘Happy Hour’ price discount but the customers don’t object to paying 8 Euros a glass for endless rounds of these brightly coloured, sticky innovations. And they’ll sit there for 2-3 hours swallowing them. A few stalwarts drink beer while others share jugs of Sangria. A simple glass of red , white or rose wine is an exception and no one seems to order a bottle of wine for two or three with which to wash down their tapas. A glance at the glasses of the drinkers could form the basis for a survey into the changing drinking habits of French people.
The 35 hour week gives the option of working four or even as few as three longer days to gain that extra day’s freedom from the boulot—slang for daily grind. But what are they doing with the extra time? It seems that drinking is taking up a lot of it.
Whereas the traditional French way of relaxing is over a three course meal among friends with wine, the changed lifestyle of single yuppies now involves bars and cocktails with or without the big screen for football matches that arrive with ever increasing frequency.
In France, time off almost exceeds time spent working. The other day I heard a girl wishing her friends a “Bon weekend” on a Wednesday.
Yes, leisure is the new opium of the people, of that there is no doubt, and while some of the yuppie population are using it to exercise--I’ll write about that later—many seem to use it for getting drunk. Due to the 35 hour week’s longer weekends, Thursday is now the night of big de-stressing. It’s not as though they’ve been working since Monday. No, the week for these people seems to start on Tuesday and end on Thursday afternoon. And half of them have Wednesday afternoons off as well. But this is not the case with everyone. Senior managers and other top professionals work extremely long hours and, my concierge, a warm hearted young Portuguese with a hard working husband and ten year old boy is devastated by the noise coming from El Tonel. She tells me that she is awakened before six by municipal garbage collectors who come to empty our bulging bins, charmingly called Poubelles. On Thursdays, she closes the heavy door to the courtyard that separates our elegant entrée from the street and El Tonel, which like many bars stays open until 2am. She goes to bed at 10pm but the screams and yells from the bar prevent her from sleeping. One of the worst aspects, she says, is girls laughing hysterically. Yes, I’ve heard them. Hyenas would be impressed. Screeching girls are also new in France, but that too is another story.
I confessed I had dropped a plastic bottle filled with tap water from my balcony onto the street adjacent to the bar whose terrace is sheltered from above by an arcade. This was at 2am when I had been bothered by the noise all evening. I’m a night owl but I like the peace of the night and don’t want to have to listen to drunken noises while I write or relax. I can’t play my piano after 10 pm so why should these mindless goons be allowed to disturb us? I jokingly asked her at what time she would prefer me to start dropping bottles of water. She laughed. “Whenever you like,” she said.
A couple of weeks later she cautioned me. Apparently the police had been told of falling bottles of water from my floor. “Be careful,”” she said. “Next time, make sure you switch off your lights first.“ I’ll be even more careful that that. I’ll pour water slowly in a steady stream. In fact I have just done so. It seemed to work. But tonight is only Tuesday!