A couple of weeks ago, we attended a vernissage (an art show opening) at this little chapel-converted-to-a-gallery, which is just outside of town. The featured artist is named Kathryn Holford, and she currently lives with her husband (a novelist) in La Cressonnière — the home we used to rent when we lived here before.
We loved talking with Kathryn and her husband and we bonded over the delight of living in such a special home, and unexpectedly falling in love with this particular part of Normandy. Her husband commented that the people who live here are by-and-large content and happy — and I agree. It’s a sweet life here.
Our town, Argentan, is not a well known tourist spot and people often ask us why we aren’t in Paris, or in the South of France, or a more popular spot, or a bigger city — and we find it a bit hard to explain to anyone who hasn’t been here. We fell in love with this area and we fell hard.
I think one of the things we love (though it for sure takes getting used to) is the slower pace of life. For example, the hours of business. I can’t speak for Paris, or other regions in France, but this is what business hours are like in Argentan:
-Everything is closed on Sunday.
-Many services are closed on Monday too.
-On the days that shops and services are open, they close from 12:00 noon to 2:00 PM for lunch. To be clear, this isn’t just small mom-and-pop shops, it’s even big brand places like Orange (which is the French AT&T/Verizon) or big clothing stores, or the car dealerships.
-Stores and services close for the day at 6:00 PM. A few might stay open until 7:00 PM. And this means the big grocery stores too. If you haven’t done your grocery shopping by 7:00, you’re out of luck.
-Restaurants are open from Noon to 2:30 PM, and then again at 7:00 PM until 9:30 PM. If you’re wanting a late lunch or early dinner, your best bet is a bakery. They open early and stay open until around 6:00 PM — though by 2:00 PM, they’ve likely run out of things like sandwiches or quiche that can make a quick meal (people here just don’t do late lunch or early dinner — they eat at specific times and that’s it).
-The gym Ben Blair joined opens at 9:00 AM, and closes at 8:00 PM, on Monday through Saturday — except for Wednesdays when it opens at noon. There are no classes or work-out options before work or school — the first classes begin at 10:00 AM.
-The open air farmer’s market is just on certain days and for limited hours.
-There are exceptions. Like the grocery stores are often open through lunch. And the local bakeries and pharmacies will each take turns opening on Sundays — because bread and medicine are essentials!
And even with the general times I listed above, stores and offices each tend to have unique hours. So you really have to think about what you want to get done, and plan for it, and take your time. There aren’t many rush options, or last-minute options. You have to slow down, you can’t be urgent about everything. Today, you can stop at the farmer’s market, but you’ll have to wait until tomorrow to visit the bank.
The hours aren’t set up with consumer ease being the priority, they’re set up with quality of life being the priority.
It all feels a bit more civilized, you know? There are a lot of customs and practices in place to protect your home life, your time with your family, and your personal life.
Another example of the slower pace of life is how laundry is handled here. French homes often don’t have dryers. In fact, our current Airbnb doesn’t have one. And my closest friend here, Caroline, who is a mother of four, doesn’t have one and never has.
The laundry process? You wash a load, and either hang it outside, OR, if you don’t have a garden, or the weather is wet, everyone has drying racks you can set up inside the house. So you might have them in your living room for a couple of days as your clothing dries. At our Airbnb, the washing machine is in a barn/garage/utility room connected to the house. We have the drying racks set up there — there’s plenty of room — and don’t need to bother about the weather.
Depending on the material and thickness and weather, items might dry within a few hours, or they might need to dry overnight, or they might need 48 hours+. And yes, there’s a huge energy savings from not using a drying.
After items are dried, almost everything goes under the iron. The air drying makes everything a bit crispy — almost like built in starch, and the iron shapes it right up.
Not using a dryer slows down the laundry process significantly. And not just the drying time. Hanging each individual item to dry on racks takes quite a bit longer than throwing everything into the dryer. And the washers are smaller, so you do smaller loads.
The whole process simply takes longer, so there’s not really a last minute laundry option. If it’s 10:00 at night and your teen needs something washed for the next day, you can spot clean it, but that’s about it. You have to slow down. You can’t be urgent about everything.
Also, it’s a long enough process that it’s not worth washing something casually. Obviously certain things, like underwear and socks, get washed after one wear, but for everything else, you really consider whether it needs a wash or can be worn again. On that note, it’s quite common — especially in preschool and elementary school — for the kids to wear the same outfit every day, all week long. They eat neatly, keep their clothes clean, and just keep wearing them. They may even change out of their school clothes and put on play clothes as soon as they get home.
There is a laundromat in town, with medium and large machines, and big dryers, but it’s not cheap and it’s closes at 8:00 PM. The price is about $6 for a medium load of washing, and $11 for a large load — and the big dryer is about $1.75 for 10 mins. For reference, it takes at least 30 mins to dry a towel.
One more example of the slower pace is our experience buying a car — which we have chosen but still haven’t picked up yet! We found the care with an online search, and drove to Caen (about 40 minutes away) on a Wednesday to test drive it. The next day we emailed them to let them know we wanted purchase it and asked when we could pick it up. That was two weeks ago — and it won’t be ready for us to pick up until tomorrow. Hah!
Everything just takes more time here. You’ve got to slow down. You’ve got to keep your to-do list reasonable. The whole pace of life here just slows everything down. My family life in America is so busy, busy, busy, that it definitely takes a while to get used to the slower pace here — not being able to run out to Target or the grocery store at 9:00 PM is an adjustment. But we really love how protected our family time is.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. If the business hours I describe above were implemented where you live, would it affect your shopping habits? Would the laundry situation drive you crazy? Or does the slower pace of life sound appealing?