* Between The Sea (the Med) and The Alps -- {Pronounce: ontruh la mair eh lay zalp}

Friday, August 1, 2014


imageThis is not a weekend to be on French roads.  They are to be avoided at all costs, because in general they will not be avoided!  This is the biggest annual traffic weekend of the year, every year, in France, and it's really quite something.  The term chassé-croisé essentially means criss-cross, a reference to the dance step where the man and woman alternate crossing in front of each other.  In French terminology, it means massive traffic jam.

We learned all about this phenomenon our first summer over here.  While we've been able to miss it most of the time, over the years we've gotten caught in it a few times.  Even when we weren't, we've seen it with traffic going the other direction, usually cold northerners heading south searching sea and sun.

French culture definitely revolves around the school calendar, even for those with nobody in school.  So there are versions of this traffic situation on the weekends surrounding all school vacations.  But the summer ones are the worst, and the weekend separating July and August are the absolute worst.

In general, the French get five weeks of vacation. Only four can be taken at a time, which is typically in the summer, split between either the month of July or the month of August.  The fifth was intended to be a winter ski vacation. 

Traditionally, according to all the culture I've learned, the French would spend the whole month in one place, often in a campground, where annual friendships (and first loves) were maintained over a number of years.  So the beginning of July, as soon as school was out, le grand départ would start for half the population.  But when July was over, the August group would set out.  Meaning, half the vacationers hit the road to come home, the other half hit the road to head out.

Heaven help you if you weren't in either crowd but got stuck in the middle of them anyway!  As Doc Leo avoids turnpikes in favor of national roads whenever possible, and as the vacationers hit the turnpikes in order to get to their destinations as fast as possible (yeah, right), we usually managed to avoid the worst of it all if we happened to be on the road at the wrong time.

Is the fast road really worth paying for?

While today's society is generally taking shorter vacations at a time, spreading them out in shorter segments over the year when possible (some companies shut down for the month of August, so an employee doesn't have a choice), the weekend traffic jams have also spread out to more annual weekends, while the grand July/August weekend hasn't gotten any better.  If you don't have anybody in school, and you need to hit the road, it is necessary to pay attention to the school calendar and prudently choose your route if you want to do more than just sit in stalled traffic for hours at a time.

Do we really need a chart?

Thus, as this is the weekend separating July and August, once again the traffic situation has made French news, as it does every year.  As the lead story, they were predicting over 300 miles of traffic backups on Saturday.

There are multiple publications explaining the worst times, as if it wasn't the exact same thing every year.  As you can see here, Saturday is considered a full black day for those heading out (mostly in our direction, the locals try to avoid the beach areas all summer), although the return traffic in red isn't much better.

To add to the fun, most of France is under a major storm watch this year.  I would not like to be a parent stuck in a car with multiple offspring.

If your own summer vacation is still ahead of you, I wish you the typical French salutation valid in any language:




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