The street is deserted, I cannot see anyone.
Sure it is off season, but still, where are all the French?
I have wondered this for the last few days, stepping out of my little apartment for a quick break, a few minutes after the noon bells, and am greeted by closed shutters and empty laneways. The shops are dark, I save my errands for the next day.
I am confused. I am here in the small villages of Provence designing a “Joie de Vivre” retreat - lore has it that the French live this expression as a way of life, but I am just not seeing it.
It isn’t until the next day that I see the city practicing something that so many of us long for; as the noon bell strikes, the streets start to empty. Shutters close. Stores lock up. For ten minutes, schools flood the streets with students, backpacks bumping up and down as their little legs take them home. Then, suddenly, there is not a French person to be found in this little town, unless you head into a bistro, which have just opened and are packed.
What I find so delightful is the clear boundary the French have around this sacred two hours. This culture of “work to live” not “live to work” means that precisely at noon everyone turns to what gives them the most meaning; they gather with family and friends and take the time to live slowly, savour the plat du jour and be in the moment.
Living here for the month, I tested the limits of this tradition. I learned that to try and book a meeting over lunch, is to risk offending everyone and, with great efficiency, they will tell you “ce n’est pas possible, madame” and that will be that. And don’t think of entering a restaurant after 14:00, you will be ushered out, hungry. Self conscious of eating alone, I tried to hurry things along, thinking I would speed up my two hour lunch service and then get back to work. Fastest time achieved, to the great discomfort of the serving staff, was an hour and 15 minutes.
I struggled at first, what does one do with only your thoughts, a book and great food for that length of time?
Well, it turns out that you have time to breathe, sink into the amusement of the moment, people watch, fall into great conversation with the couple at the next table, read enough consecutive chapters that the story feels like it has an arc so you can be swept away, consider big life questions “what is happiness?” and small life pleasantries “I wonder why cats purr?”, long for a friend I am missing and dream about new challenges for the new year and, well, just feel good.
I mean really good.
My afternoons take on a different rhythm, if my mornings are harried and task focused, my afternoons are thoughtful and paced. The bullet-point staccato of the morning gets reset into a smooth rhythm after “la pause”.
This strict lunchtime protocol is a life lesson. It turns out “Joie de Vivre” is a way of life, a daily practice of respecting the boundaries that we put around the things that we value.
“Life balance” is the most frequent request that clients make when they come for coaching. They covet it like a cashmere sweater - a luxury item that might one day, if they are very lucky, just appear. The “life balance” that is so ardently wished for by my clients is being practiced here as a daily tradition.
Balance comes with boundaries.
Joie de Vivre comes with the honouring of what is encircled by your boundaries.
I’m comfortable now, sitting at the table alone, enjoying a slow lunch, allowing myself to breathe in the middle of the day. I’ve started to consider the list of things that I want to reconnect to more fully, things that have been sacrificed in the rushed norm of my days. I am drawing a boundary around Joie de Vivre. I realize that if I want it to follow me home, I will have to practice keeping it alive.
I’m taking the full two hours for lunch today.
Avec une Joie de Vivre,
Tania Carriere, life coach and founder of Advivum Journeys, finds delight searching everyday life for epiphanies and creating retreats for her clients to do the same.You are all invited. www.advivumjourneys.ca