The Importance of Leisure

I just finished reading “Entre Nous” by Debra Olivier. It’s described as “A Woman’s Guide to Finding Her Inner French Girl” As you may have noticed, I am a total Francophile. (I even took French in college!) There is much I admire about French culture. Their lifestyle of walking everywhere, the food, the appreciation for style and leisure and routine. Extra-marital affairs? Not so much. You take what you like, leave what you don’t, non? One thing is certain, the French know how to enjoy the small pleasures life.

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What is a weekend anyway?

My love of France is the reason I chose this book. However, it ended up teaching more than I expected. You see, my husband and I worked retail for many years. We would often work every weekend, sometimes 6 day weeks, 10 days in a row without a day off, double shifts, “clopen” (when you close and get off at 10:30 pm or 11:30 pm, and then come back to open at 4:30 am), work holidays, the list goes on. We missed countless family parties, town events, even Christmas. Our work environment also compelled us to be efficient at all times which is a blessing and a curse. This combination of unpredictable work schedules and hyper-efficiency made us workaholics who don’t know how to relax and furthermore, don’t know how to spend a weekend or vacation. Reading about how the French do it is so inspiring!

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Please note: I am not an expert but I have read many books about French lifestyle and the observations of the authors on French life have many parallels. Of course all people are unique, but when you have a culture who has such a rich history, there are bound to be some cultural ideas that are the same across the board.

Le Journée de Travail (The Work Day)

On a typical work day, a French person will eat breakfast en famille (with their family), and their lunch “hour” might be 2-3 hours! They have no problem leaving work at work and pushing back deadlines. Work life balance seems much more like it has a natural flow. After work, it is time to have dinner (which takes almost 2 hours) as a family, and for leisure – think reading, watching a film, or taking a bath. They are in bed at a reasonable hour, probably no later than 11 pm. They are very disciplined when it comes to sleep.

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Le Weekend (The Weekend)

This is time to play! Time to go to the farmers market, try a new recipe, go shopping, watch a film, have a dinner party – not time to clean all day or do extra work. They are so good at leaving work at work that they even talk about things BESIDES work – imagine that! They will discuss books, politics, the theater, the arts, or whatever else they happen to be interested in. Sounds healthier to me! The good Lord knows I have spent too much of my life ruminating about work.

Les Vacances (Vacation)

When they are traveling, they spend time doing nothing. They might hike all day, or swim all day, or bake and read all day. They might go antiquing or try various restaurants. It sounds to me that they don’t overbook themselves with too many activities but they take time to savor and slow down. They aren’t obsessed with getting ahead, or with productivity.

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What I Notice About French Priorities

The French really value their health, more than money or status. This is so opposite to Americans. We will “hustle” all day and all night and put our health on the back burner.
They are more concerned with making a life than earning a living. Here are some things I’ve noticed about the French, in a nut shell:

  • Meals – look how long their meal times are! It sounds so restful and that your food will properly digest. I love that there is no rushing.
  • Family – Their government supports family life, the workweek is only 35 hours, they get long vacations, etc.
  • Leisure – They don’t waste away in front of the T.V. or spend too much time on their phones. They play and rest meaningfully.
  • Mindfulness – They take time to savor the moment and be with their loved ones.

All in all, I think we could learn much from the way the French spend their leisure time, and the importance they place on it.

How do you like to spend your evenings? Weekends? Vacations? Do you think you could learn from the French and take more time to enjoy life? I’d love to hear in the comments below!

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