How to Survive Paris in the Summer

I’ve been wondering lately why I live here.

Winter is freezing cold. You can barely go stay outside for more than a few minutes without the icy blasts (which sound good now) sending you back indoors, to get under the covers, snuggly with a steaming cup of hot chocolate.

Then we have spring.
Which this year lasted 4 days.

Then summer comes, and Paris melts down. You can see it on every face of everyone in the city. From people waiting for the bus, straining to stand in a tiny sliver of shade, to the women fanning themselves furiously on the buses and métro, everyone here is hotter than heck. Yesterday I went to the movies just to get cool, but unfortunately the film (The Squid & The Whale) was a measly 1 hour long. Who makes a 1 hour movie? I was tempted to stay and see it again just to bask in the coolness of the cinema but it was hard to stay awake the first time around.
Anything to escape my rooftop apartment, just under a zinc roof, which yesterday was104 degrees F. A few friends of mine have similar rooftop apartments, and I decided that no one’s allowed to complain to us how hot they are, since we’re invariably 10 degrees hotter than they are. So there.

But this time of year, visitors start coming to Paris in droves. I don’t know why so many people choose to come to Paris in the summer, but everyone’s surprised when I tell them that many of the shops are closed and it’s really hot. And I’m leaving.
But come, they do.

So if you are planning to come to Paris in the next month or so, here are some tips to keep in mind:

roseparisheat.jpg

1. Drink rosé.

For some reason, Americans are reluctant to drink rosé, which is inexpensive and delightfully served icy-cold. Rosé in France, for the most part, is dry and very drinkable. And it goes down very well in the summer, speaking from recent experience. Order it by the carafe since there’s little difference between that and what comes in the more expensive bottles.

You’ll be drinking it so fast that it doesn’t really matter.

2. Never order anything they call ‘iced coffee’ or ‘iced tea’.

It’s invariably very, very sweet. If you order iced coffee, no matter what you’re thinking it’s going to be, stop before you do. No matter how tempting it sounds to you, just stop.

If you order something called ‘iced coffee’, you’ll be served a very small amount of dark liquid (very sweet) in a large glass, with a straw, and it will be really sweet. And expensive.

Iced tea is inevitably from a can. And flavored.

And very sweet as well.

(Disclaimer: Yes, that was me you saw on the Boulevard St. Michel at, gasp, Starbucks drinking a Frappucino. It was so hot, we had no choice. But I have a question: Is there any coffee in those things? You’d think if they’re gonna charge 4.50€, about $5.50, they would at least taste the slightest bit like coffee. Would it kill them to toss in an extra espresso without charging extra for it?)

3. There is no ice.

You may get a cube or two in your drink, but French people don’t use lots of ice and few places have those jumbo ice machines like in America. When I worked in restaurants in the US, the worst thing that could happen was when the ice machine broke. People freaked. I mean, they really freaked. It was like they couldn’t deal with drinking room-temperature water. And now, some places in America are charging extra if you don’t want ice. It’s like there’s this vast conspiracy to get you to use lots of ice or something in America. Perhaps someone’s putting something in the ice?

(Because whenever I request “No ice” in the US, the waiter gives me this funny look, and I can see him thinking, “Oh great. Why do I get all the ass#%$les in my section?”)

Speaking of drinking: You’ll notice that it’s customary not to fill wine or water glasses to-the-brim full. In France, glasses are generally filled half-full. And in some places or in homes you’re expected to use the same glass for both wine and water, so if you fill it too full with wine, you gotta finish all of it before you get any water.

And vice versa.

4. Don’t expect air-conditioning.

Or I should say, very little is air-conditioned, especially like the icy-cold turbo-blasts experienced in the US. Electricity is very expensive in France. That, coupled with a general dislike of cool breezes (or open windows…or any kind of ventilation in general) but it can get uncomfortably and unbearably hot and people will sit in restaurants and apartments with the windows firmly closed.

That includes the métro, which can be downright intolerable in the summer. Especially when it’s jammed full and your face is directly in some dudes hairy armpit who forgot to take his weekly shower. but you can’t move. Most of the buses aren’t air-conditioned (except I got on the #63 recently, and it was un peu de paradis), nor is the RER from the airport, which is downright miserable in the summer and you should avoid it. Spring for a cab or a shuttle.

5. Spring for some decent sandals.

Parisians do wear sandals and flip-flips (les thongs, except you don’t pronounce the ‘h’) but in general they wear rather sporty ones. If you want to wear rubber flip flops, stop at Pay-Less and get pair that doesn’t look skanky.

(And while you’re at it, make sure your feet look decent. Like mine do.)

5a: Don’t ever wear dark socks with sandals.
5b: Don’t ever wear dark knee socks with sandals.
5c: Don’t wear socks with sandals, period.

And remember, you can only wear two of the following at the same time: sandals, shorts, or a tank top. Never all three (if you do, then it’s obligatory to add a fanny pack and carry a Rick Steve’s guidebook.)

6. Spring for some nice shorts.

Parisians do wear shorts, in spite of what you hear, but do not wear them if you’re planning to go into sophisticated places or nice shops.

Do not wear your ultra-short shorts, or anything that looks like something Mariah Carey would wear…unless you’re trolling for les clients on the rue St. Denis.

(And men: If you’re planning on doing any shoe shopping during les soldes, please remember to wear undershorts. A friend of mine was a shoe salesperson and was always amazed how few men didn’t wear undies and whenever she looked up to ask about the fit, she was greeted with an eyeful.)

7. Take time to relax.

I’ve seen too many people coming to Paris who want to take in six museums in one day, rush from place to place with a rigid schedule, and generally make themselves and their friends crazy. You’ll notice that Parisians sit in cafés for lo-o-o-ong periods of time, thinking, reading, or doing absolutely nothing. It’s a skill I’ve finally mastered.

Just sit around and watch the world go by. Remember that citron pressée that you paid 6€ for? It’s for the privilege of doing just that. And it’s hot, so just relax. Or go to the movies. Paris is a great movie city. And most cinemas are air-conditioned.

8. Get out of the Left Bank.

While there’s lots of interesting things to do in Paris; fabulous chocolate shops, great bakeries, and shopping galore, there’s other neighborhoods in Paris worth exploring besides the Boulevard St. Germain-des-Pres.

Have you been to Belleville and Boulangerie 140 at Place Jourdain?

What about the Canal St. Martin for a stroll in the evening?

9. Parisians eat much later in the summer.

The sun doesn’t go down until around 11pm, so things happen later. No one will be eating dinner at 7 or 7:30pm, and many restaurants won’t even be open before that.
So plan accordingly.

If you want a seat outside (en terrasse, make sure to specify that when you reserve, as they’re the first to go. Otherwise, if you want a seat near the window, those go second and it’s best to show up earlier in the evening rather than later.

And if you’re staying in a hotel in a popular neighborhood, and need to keep the windows open, bring ear plugs to block out noisy Brits getting pissed or the Aussies and their birds drinking cans of 1664 under your window.

10. Prepare for les vacances.

Realize that lots of places close for a month, mostly in August but starting in mid-July. It’s said that Americans “live to work” and Europeans “work to live”, which is rather true, and they are outta here.

The upside is that you’ll have Paris much to yourselves and it’s very pleasant and uncrowded. But expect many, many places to be closed.
Any other tips?

34 comments

  • I am heading to Paris in September with a friend for a food/drink fest (and escape from family). Would you be able to recommend a place to stay (we want to spend our money on food/drink, so we are trying to save on the accommodation bit. Thanks.

  • It’s so wierd for you to be talking about how hot it is when we are freezing down here. Nonetheless, it was a good read and should serve as a forewarning when the summer months and 45C degree weather come around to Sydney, I’m sure I i’ll be whinging about the same things. Although here we have lots of A/C and nice beaches to cool ourselves with. Although some beaches can be packed with old men wearing speedos…I guess there’s a downside to everything.

  • It’s boiling in London at the moment. Yesterday was the hottest day ever, so I can sympathise.

    Personally, I think les vacances is an inspired use of a month. Over the past couple of years, I’ve been delighted that Londoners are taking the concept to heart. As for your lists of things to do/not to do in a hot city, can I add a further point: Don’t suddenly stop walking in the street to consult a map or gawp at a Routemaster bus. If you have to look, move over to the side, otherwise you’ll get a pissed off sweaty Londoner effing and blinding in your ear.

  • Yes sir. Some hypermarchés are chilled with aircon. Summer is the only time when I cross the threshold of the Carrfour.

  • Your comparison of the two makes me laugh aloud. Having lived in the US and now in France (I am from neither of these countries), it is refreshing to read your view.

  • Never, ever stop at the top of an escalator? I once saw a German tour guide (recognisable by his lovely sandals-with-socks combo) stop to wait for his group at the top of an escalator and so did every freakin’ member of his group, causing not a little panic amongst those of us still on the escalator. Common sense, people – got any?

    Try putting a little peach liqueur and a lemon zest in the lovely glass of rosé. It’s heavenly.

    And if you go to the Louvre, get off at the stop Musée du Louvre and follow the signs to the underground direct entrance to the museum. You won’t be standing outside in the hot sunshine waiting to go through security and you probably won’t have to wait in line at all. And the shopping center you pass through to get to the museum is usually deliciously cool…

    David, no ice cream recommendations? ; )

  • How about some ice cream? Le Berthilon is a classic. I like those double scoops in the groovy side-by-side cones.

    My favorite chill spot in Paris is Parc Andre Citroen which no one has ever heard of but it’s filled with fountains for splashing in and tres modern gardens for strolling. Sometimes greenery just makes you feel cooler. Oh and cruising down the Seine on the Bateau-Mouche is touristy but do it anyway.

  • I am SO getting a job in a Parisian shoestore this summer then!!!!!!!! WAHOOOOOOOO!!!!!!

    I meam, um, how terrible!

  • Hey, did you scoff at me when I poured my whole perrier into that glass today at lunch? I should have read this before I went. You probably rolled your eyes at me and I just thought you were really enjoying your green beans.
    I’m glad you dispelled the myth that Parisians don’t wear shorts, because I see them everywhere!

  • Matt wrote: “I am SO getting a job in a Parisian shoestore this summer then!!!!!!!! WAHOOOOOOOO!!!!!!”

    Yeah! Move on, buddy, there’s a queue for the shoe job – almost as long at the one at Levis of Paris!

  • Exactly my sentiments… I love reading your blog! Here’s one more American in Paris who is suffering with you! I also live on the top floor and agree with you that it’s hotter. Good luck with keeping cool! And yes, drink rosé!

  • If you are faced with the drunken Aussie/Brit who’s apparently kept you up all night because 1. you didn’t close the window or 2. you went for the really, really cheap ie. €10/night option in Parisian hostels where the walls aren’t very soundproof, please don’t get angry at her – she’s just having a good time.

  • Sitting here in 90º Malaysia I have absolutely no sympathy for the lot of you complaining about 84º weather. And its this temperature here ALL THE TIME. Plus its humid, can anyone say, ‘Sticky’?

    Ok, Ok sorry, I’ve no right to be complaining, I live here I should be used to the place. But I just wanted to top you guys in the frenzy of heated self pity.

    At least Malaysia is big on airconditioning and ice.

    Speaking of ice, the reason they give here when they charge you more for drinks with no ice is that with the ice out they have to give you MORE drink. Geddit? Take a glass of orange juice for example, a glass without ice contains more orange juice than a glass with ice *rolls eyes*.

  • hi emily! it would have been lovely if it were only 84. i’ve been alternating between paris and london in the last few weeks and between 94-96 is more the norm. and yes, it is also very humid. how do i know humidity? well i lived in the philippines for most of my 27 years so i lived and breathed humidity and i can honestly say europe reminds me so much like home right now. try riding the metro and the tube trains and add another 10 degrees to the already stifling temperature.

    as to online weather sites, why do they always say it’s cooler than it actually is? maybe it’s a ploy to hide global warming yet again?

    those with air conditioning consider yourselves the luckiest people in europe right now.

  • Hit the nearest swimming pool? Although my one experience in a French pool was disastrous- they swim diagonally!

    Maybe just stick to wandering through La Grande Epicerie at Bon Marche :)

  • Ha! I just returned from the US and received many an evil eye when requesting iceless water. And as a former waitress, I can also remember the two-ton ice coolers and the hell to be paid for their malfunctioning.

    When my mother visited Paris, she asked a very nice waiter for “lots of ice.” She received two cubes. After flapping her arms furiously, she was brought four. Good luck with that, ice freaks!

    Snd incidentally, the post about microplaning your feet is horrifying! HORRIFYING!! (thanks)

  • Remember this, people come to Paris in the summer because this is the time when Parisians are not there, because they are en vacances! Paris “is” for the tourists in the summer.

    And I am not sure how long you have been in Paris, but this canicule thing is pretty new. Pretty crazy. Anyone who wants to be freaked about this should go and see An Inconvenient Truth! I wanted to buy an electric car after the movie, amongst other things.

    Anyway, super cold iced drinks, glasses full up to the top suck indeed! One thing I do not like either is that 80 % of the time, a waiter in the US would pour water on you, or fill the glass so much that it drips on the table. I just wonder why. But a detail, really. I like it here.

    Wow, many things to say, eh? Hope you stay cool. I have to say, I grew to LOVE AC!

  • JenJen: Old men in Speed-o’s? Are you sure you aren’t in the south of France?

    Lucy: Aside from stooping to a Frapuccino at Strabuck’s, I did spent an afternoon at Auchan!

    Meg (and Amy): Bertillon is closed for the summer, until the beginning of September. But my new favorite place is Pozzetto for gelato, in the Marais. They give you lots! Love those Italians in spite of the fact they don’t play nice when playing football : )

    Matt: I can just see you selling shoes, wearing your leather chaps. Lemme get my camera…!

    (…and I tried to look up that word you sent me, ‘free-b–ling’ in my French dictionary, and I couldn’t find it.)

    Béa: My Parisian friends all say this is really weird, these uber-hot summers. It’s no longer an ‘inconvenient truth’…but it’s really happening. Yes, the AC is nice, but last time I was in America…in December!…places were blasting their air-conditioning.

    Christine: I was going to go to Butte Aux Cailles yesterday, but I was ascared to wear my itty-bitty Speed-o (men have to wear them in pools in Paris, and you can’t cheat wearing those more modest square-cut numbers. Plus everyone has to wear a bathing cap.)

    And how can you expect Parisians to swim in a straight line when they can’t even walk in one??

    Megan: Rosé rules!

    Emily & Carol: I would love it if it was 84 degrees…and near a Malaysian beach. Ahhh….

    Yes, those weather icons are indeed a right-wing conspiracy. Although yesterday mine said it was 97 here in Paris, so maybe they did it just so we wouldn’t get suspicious.

    Also…I wonder if you factor in electricity, machinery, upkeep, and global warming,…those few ice cubes are not so cheap. Still, the few cents worth of booze is not worth getting customers mad, in my opinion.

    Meg2: If you want to see horrifying, you should have seen what I washed down the drain after my first use!

    Michele: I was going to say something, but I didn’t want to embarass you. I guess that part of me is still American.

    Bonnie: I always travel with earplugs. Especially in England and Australia : )

    CJ: I don’t normally recommend hotels since people have different desries and comfort levels. Maybe someone can post here a recommendation, or check http://www.tripadvisor.com.

  • The best thing I know to cool hot afternoon is a diabolo (syrup and lemonade or syrup and ice water) on a shaded terasse. Enjoy the french syrups, there are dozens of different tastes.

    As a french in the states, I enjoy your blog a lot. Keep it up!

  • David, I’d be only too happy to send you some of my ice. We had -12degC / 10degF on the ground at my place overnight!

  • Here in Houston its is always hot , but the ac is great. enjoy your blog sooooooo much.

  • I really enjoyed that!

  • You think THAT’S hot? It’s been consistently over 100 every day here in Livermore. It’s been dry, but Friday, Saturday and Sunday are all supposed to be over 100 and humid. Also, my weather icons tend to overshoot the temperature. Mine said it was to be 103 today, but my thermometer said 100 and I don’t think it got too far above that.

    And speaking of ice, my most memorable European ice moment happened at a restaurant in Monaco. I ordered une carafe d’eau and with specific accent in my voice I asked for beaucoup de glacons. The waitress responded by saying “Pas de glacons, mais ca serait tres frais!” with a pep in her voice. I had been in France for about a week, so I wasn’t expecting much ice, but being refused ice was a little weird. It’s also worth noting that they had ice, because I spied a few cubes in someone’s soda. Oh, you crazy Europeans.

  • Just one explanation about Paris and the windows… if you open your windows in summer, you’ll let the heat in the appartement! That’s why French people usually open their windows at night when it’s cooler and close the shades and windows during the days to protect themselves from the heat…
    French people may not be so stupid…

  • Hi Alex:

    Aside for all the jerks chain-smoking in restaurants while I’m trying to eat, the proliferation of juvenile and very annoying cell-phone ringtones, the guy who wouldn’t look for the shoes in my size I wanted to buy at the shoe store today, the Parisians who walk right into me then expect me to apologize, and the woman at the newstand yesterday who slammed down my change when I asked for a receipt, I’m the first person to defend the French.

    However, today I stopped in at an antique shop owned by a French friend. Not only was the door closed to the shop, not one window was open nor was there a fan going. I almost passed out just walking in there. He told me that any cool breeze is very unhealthy and would make him sick. (What is this? A nation of Jewish mothers?)

    My partner (Parisian) and I ate at a restaurant last week that was so hot, we could barely stand it and had to leave since we literally couldn’t breath. I asked the owner why he didn’t get a fan, and he replied, “They’re too expensive.” (Mine cost 30€, which was the best 30€ I’ve spent in a long, lone time.)

    Yes, I close the window shades during the day to keep the intense sunshine out. But when it’s 37 degrees (97 F) out, I doubt opening a window or plugging in a fan to create a cooling breeze is going to kill anyone.

    Perhaps if some of the 15,000 people who died in the 2003 heatwave were not-so-stupid and splurged a fan (or cracked open a window), they might have lived.

  • I liked your tip to drink rose. My husband and I have recently discovered it and I’m currently addicted to this cold, dry wine. You’re right, more Americans need to check it out. Regarding vacances…it is my understanding that most Europeans vacation mid-July through August. Is that true in Spain as well as France? I am planning a trip there next year and want to determine the best time to go. We want the restaurants and shops to be open.
    Thanks,
    Julie

  • Hi David, i have to admit it’s been so hot over the last few weeks, but i am enjoying it by drinking lots of rosé AND/OR pimms lemonade and occasionnaly dipping myself in the cool swimming pool.

    (((Lovely shot of the rosé by the way)))

    Fanny

  • *throws hands up in surrender*
    Okay, okay you guys win… you’re hotter and you suffer more. Lolz!

    Its been raining today and the temperature’s a nice 86 degrees. *purrs contentedly*

    Sticky but cool I can live with that.

    I’ll be bounding off to Europe in mid-august (2-year masters) everyone swears I’ll be greeted in Denmark with cloudy gray skies, miserable rain, and a chilling breeze.

    But from what I’m reading on this blog, my tubes, tank tops, and halters are coming over with me!

  • For those of you who feel the proteins in your brain are fast unravelling compliments of a Parisian summer day, may I suggest the newly-opened Musee du Quai Branly, where the a/c makes even this Canadian wish she’d brought a sweater with her? The price of admission, however, is that you’ll have to line up in the hot blazing sun for an hour and risk getting sunstroke before you can even get to the ticket counter to buy your way in.

  • I missed this as I was on the coast, avoiding the 113 degree heat – and internet service. 113. May go up tomorrow. I win(I lose). But, I have a question: can you wear Keens with socks? Or, can girls wear Keens with socks?

  • Yes! Yes! More rose wine! Great tips, David. I also agree with the don’t stop at the top of an escalator – what are people thinking when they do that?? It’s also amazing, when you start to look around, how many people walk in the direction that their head isn’t facing – either they’re turning back to talk to someone as they’re walking, talking on a cellphone or whatever – but certainly not looking at you as they make a beeline to collide with you!

    As for tips, it is true that Aug is hot and the nice restaurants close etc etc but you can also get great hotel bargains then – we have often stayed in hotels far beyond out budget by going in August. I agree – the Metro (especially Line 4 for some reason) is living hell in summer! so the solution is to buy those great sandals you mentioned and WALK! Paris is very walkable and there’s always a park to rest in. It means you get to know the layout of the city better and is a lot less stressful than cramming yourself onto trains all the time. Find a shady spot and sit by the river to eat les sandwich baguettes rather than an overpriced restaurant (btw, Lina’s make great fresh sandwiches before your very eyes). And then wander over to Berthillon and have their blood orange (orange sanguine) sorbet – it’s to die for an will instantly cool you down!

  • David, admit it. You’re ready for rosé all year round! :)

    It’s been 104 degrees F in Montana, where, strangely, my coping mechanism tonight was to watch The Squid and the Whale on demand. Before it went out. Because of the “wind,” according to the customer service agent. “Please deliver this alleged wind,” I say.

    You have to get to the farmers’ market early for the best huckleberries and cherries, and to avoid heat stroke. Here, we have locally made Big Dipper Ice Cream; tonight’s scoop was Mexican Chocolate.

    Except for the humidity, I might as well be in Paris. Right? Customer service debacles? Local food? Right? Ok, no. But I look forward to Berthilon in the fall. Until then, am happy to have you.com!

  • Ice, do you want ice? Have it delivered to your place, by bags of 3 to 20 kg (11 euros for the latter), how cooool is this?

    http://www.banquise.fr/

  • I had rose tonight!