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May Days in France

Square Durandy in Nice
Square Durandy in Nice

May is THE month of holidays in France.

May 1st was Labor Day. Today is Victory Day. May 18th is Ascension Day. And May 28th is Whit Sunday (Pentecost). Ascension and Pentecost are both religious holidays, but in spite of France’s secularism (“la laïcité“), the separation of the state and religious organizations, it still chooses to celebrate them Statewide.

I have always questioned France’s true convictions surrounding laïcité, because of this incongruity. They tend to use laïcité as their excuse to prohibit the “wearing of signs or clothing by which students ostensibly manifest a religious affiliation” in public schools, colleges and high schools, while making special mention of “the Islamic veil, whatever it is called, the kippa (Jewish head covering), or a cross of obviously excessive size.” Discreet religious signs remained authorized, however (this law was made enacted in March 15, 2004).

This is a debate that has been going on for well over 100 years, since the 1905 laws were enacted separating the Church and the State. Why not simply allow their citizens to practice their own ideas any way they wish as long as it does no harm to others? And if laïcité is so important to them, as to outlaw head coverings that might (or might not) indicate a particular religious belief, then why make religious holidays national and celebrated by all?

Is this more a disguise for their true racist and religious leanings? Ask any French person and I’ll bet they will defend their position. I’ve had many an argument with a French friend on this issue and they always defend it, vehemently.

In July 2016 following the terrorist attack on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, a “burkini ban” was issued by 30 French beach towns sparking a media frenzy. The town mayors saw the full-body burkini swimsuit (favored by some Muslim women as a means of maintaining modesty while enjoying the sea), as a symbol of Islamic extremism and a threat to “good morals and secularism.” Yet, their Catholic nuns’ habits were never discussed or outlawed. Do they not see that a Muslim woman’s burqa is basically the same garment as a habit for the same reason, as both oppress women within both religions?

Cover photo for article on french police encoutering burkini wearers on the beach

You can see why I am confused. And they should be, too…but they aren’t. They believe they are fully right simply because they see one as a threat and the other, not.

Meme comparing a Burka to a nun's habit

I digress. It was not my intention to philosophize on the topic, but the holidays in May got me thinking about this.

In addition, at every opportunity, the French will arrange to “faire le pont”—not to work during the period between a legal holiday and the nearest weekend days off. So, while you may be trying to arrange your vacation in France, or visit properties to purchase, note that May may pose problems to your getting things accomplished. We have tons of clients traveling to France in May because of the beautiful weather and less-crowded pre-summer vacation times, yet frustrated because they can’t do as much as they like because the workers aren’t around to perform the services.

We Americans living in France tend to see these holidays as a way of getting more work done! Ha! I had full intention of keeping all of today free so I could watch the May 8th festivities on the Champs Elysées on TV…at least! Emmanuel Macron, the President of the Republic will visit the tomb of the unknown soldier under the Arc de Triomphe, broadcast live on France 2 from 9:25 a.m. That kicks off a series of ceremonies in Paris and all over France. My intentions went awry when trying to fit too much into an already busy calendar, so there goes the holiday to the American work ethic.

May 8th celebrations at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris

The French work ethic is clearly very different than ours. Did you know that a French law was implemented in 2017 granting workers the “right to disconnect,” which allowed them to refrain from checking their emails outside of work hours? This law is aimed to prevent overworking, protect employees’ personal time, and reduce burnout. Don’t we wish we had such a thing? Instead, American emailers tend to expect a response within 24 hours (or less) with no consideration for the timing being “outside of work hours.” Nights, weekends and holidays don’t seem to count.

We Americans living in France deal with such expectations on a regular basis, hence we revert to our American work ethic to just take care of business, regardless of how it infringes on our non-work time.

Again, I digress. My original goal for this Nouvellettre® was to give you a taste of the Riviera as I experienced it this past week in Nice! Even if not on vacation, it’s easy to feel like you are, or be jealous of those who are, because everyone seems to be on vacation, even if they aren’t. The pace is so much slower than Paris; the smiles on people’s faces so much broader; the idea of doing nothing is so much more acceptable and life seems blissful on every level. The Mediterranean sun must have a lot to do with everyone’s “sunny disposition.” It certainly does mine.

Old Nice Port

The water on the Baie des Anges has been that beautiful aqua blue that is like no other color anywhere along the coast. It changes tone from light to dark, without much logic as to why, although I’ve researched it several times and found no real clear conclusions as to why it’s always changing. The mornings and evenings were cool, but the afternoons warmed up so much that there were many sunbathers, even at this early date.

The Baie des Anges in Nice

Friday was a very busy day meeting with my Notaire to finalize the transfer of the title of my Paris apartment to my daughter. Her office overlooks Square Dominique Durandy (at 20-22, Rue Pastorelli) and the Tramway Number 2 Durandy stop. The garden features a rosarium and vibrant blooming cascades flowing from an ornamental pergola, as well as a fountain and a big imposing sculpture. It is blooming an abundance of roses and Birds of Paradise and other foliage making it a heavenly spot to hang out, do nothing, or view it from their office windows. The square holds significant importance as the current headquarters of the Municipal Library sits on the north end and the square happens to be a longstanding favorite meeting place for passionate collectors of stamps, postcards, and coins, although they were not there when I was that morning. It’s just one of Nice’s little pleasures.

Lovely landscaping at the Municipal Library at Square Durandy in Nice

Saturday I took time off to visit the neighboring enclave Beaulieu-sur-Mer with a French friend who recently moved to Nice from Antibes, where she was bored and lacked social life. Now, living steps from the sea and Tramway Line 2 on the west side of town, her dance card is full of fun and surprises. We took the Number 15 bus from Place Garibaldi that heads straight to Beaulieu-sur-Mer, and then goes on to the Port de Plaisance at Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. It couldn’t have been easier to reach our destination. Our noses were pressed to the window to see the beautiful Côte d’Azur coastline as the bus glided along the Basse Corniche.


Upon exiting the bus at the Gare de Beaulieu, we both exclaimed, “Quel beau lieu!” (What a beautiful place; pun intended.) Having walked in the wrong direction from the bus stop gave us an opportunity to see a bit of this beautiful place on foot before landing at the Saturday morning market in the center of town. There we scored some fun and inexpensive summer frocks, matching tote bags made of woven cotton in gorgeous Mediterranean colors and a bit of produce for dinner. The market is small, but very pleasant, and was worth the excursion.

Produce at the Beaulieu-sur-Mer market

Downhill on foot to the port was a perfect spot to have lunch, with the water and boats on one side, the looming mountain on the other, and Beaulieu-sur-Mer villas and apartments overlooking it all. Surprisingly, parked along the port on our way to lunch, and then lined up on the road just above after lunch were dozens of red Ferraris and other sports cars of special note. Even with much research, I never did discover why they were there, but it was impressive, to say the least.

Ferraris in Beaulieu-sur-Mer

Ferraris in Beaulieu-sur-Mer

To return to Nice we took the bus Number 607. It replaced the Number 100 that used to go from the Nice Port to Menton in one fell swoop. Now, the bus lines are divided into two: Number 607 from Nice to Monaco and back; the Number 608 from Monaco to Menton and back. The reason the change happened is to facilitate water main modernization works in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. The work, which is being carried out by the French Riviera Community (CARF), is expected to continue until April 2024. The changeover between the two buses is now at the Saint-Roman MC stop via Place d’Armes.

The articulated 607 bus

While it may be a bit of a pain for us passengers, fortunately, the bus is now an “articulated” bus (AKA banana bus, bendy bus, tandem bus, vestibule bus, wiggle wagon, stretch bus, sausage bus or an accordion bus) comprised of two or more rigid sections linked by a pivoting joint (articulation) that allows for more passengers. It used to be packed like sardines no matter when or where you boarded, but coming back from Beaulieu-sur-Mer on Saturday, it was every bit as packed!

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds with the totebags purchased at the market in Beaulieu-sur-MerAdrian Leeds
The Adrian Leeds Group®

Adrian with the totebags purchased at the market in Beaulieu-sur-Mer

P.S. We host or speak at a number of events each year. To see what we’re up to next, please see or Events page on our website.


1 Comment

  1. Ben Jay on May 8, 2023 at 9:57 am

    Adrian, we love reading your nouvellettres. Ling and I are looking forward to revisiting Nice so that we can see what possible new apartment may be our future home. We were last in Nice during Princess Diana’s funeral in 1997 so we are excited to see what has changed in 26 years. We will check with you about travel dates to see if you will be in Nice at that time.

    Ben and Ling

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