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May Day “Muguet” or “May Gay?”

May 1st, Paris, 2006May 1st, Paris, 2006

It’s Labor Day in France (a.k.a. La Fête du Muguet, La Fête du Travail), but I’m working. Actually, writing Parler Paris is hardly “working.” Writing about life in France is just about my greatest pleasure — as there is simply so many wonderful things to write about.

Last night I was with a friend who just returned to Paris after having lived here most of her adult life, but tested out a new life in Southern California for three years. Her complaints about her U.S. experience were the usual: not that much to do except yoga, yoga, yoga and maybe some walking along the beach; not a lot of interesting people to meet, especially the “moneyed” with whom she was working on fundraising and non-profit organizations for good causes; having to drive from place to place, never able to break out of one’s “bubble,” etc., etc., etc. And we remarked, how do we explain this to someone who doesn’t know how much richer their life could be by living here, or just about anywhere in Europe for that matter? It’s tough without putting down the good ol’ American lifestyle that we were taught was the best in the world; that had the highest standard; the best the world has to offer.

She discovered after three years that it wasn’t what she wanted and is so happy to be back in Paris, where she can walk or take public transportation to just about anywhere, where she has a zillion cultural things to do at her toes, or she can just sit in a café and people watch or contemplate her navel, where she can meet tons of fascinating people at just about any event or even haphazardly on the street or in a café, etc., etc., etc. There’s also the cost factor: life in France is not only a whole lot richer, but a whole let less expensive, too. Compare the costs of rent, property taxes, health car, transportation, education, etc., etc., etc., and you find out fast that even if income tax is higher, overall expenditures are much less, making the bottom line a lot more “profitable.”

May 1st, Paris, 2009May 1st, Paris, 2009

Today is a public holiday and a key day for the celebration of workers’ rights. With that in mind, President Emmanuel Macron’s “zero-tolerance” approach to the Gilets Jaunes anti-government movement’s expected massive demonstrations all over France with possible violence, will be tested today with an overabundance of security. Will that stop me from enjoying May Day on the streets of Paris? Absolutely not. But, I do know that it will interrupt normal transport meaning wherever I want to go, it best be by foot.

The U.S. Embassy puts out alerts, as it is obligated to do, but don’t let these warnings frighten you into thinking that you aren’t safe. Just stay away from protest routes if you live in fear, but if you like the action and want to see what the blazes their unhappiness is all about…then dive right in like I might! One thing for sure — it shouldn’t stop you from visiting France, as regardless of a demonstration or two, it’s still a whole lot safer living in Europe than it is in the U.S.*

    *How much safer (or not) is the U.S. versus various European countries for     the average resident?     

    UNODC Intentional Homicide statistics for 2013:
    USA: 5.0 murders per 100,000 population, down from 8.1 in 1995.
    France: 1.2 murders per 100,000 population, down from 2.3 in 1995.    

    Traffic Accidents:
    USA: 10.4 road fatalities per 100,000 population
    France: 6.1

    Life expectancy:
    USA: Americans born today expect to live 78.7 years on average.
    France: French people born today expect to live 82.2 years on average.  

    Infant mortality:
    USA: 6.1 infants die per 1000 live births.
    France: 3.5 infants die per 1000 live births.

    Potential years of life lost due to health issues, per 100,000 people aged        0-69 years:
    USA: 3447 years for females, 5814 years for males.
    France: 2284 years for females, 4753 for males.

Greeting Card - by Tom ReganGreeting Card – by Tom Regan

Red Cross as Muguet vendorsRed Cross, as Muguet vendors, raising funds

Today is also the day when “muguet” (lily-of-the-valley) is given to someone you love. Vendors are out on the streets today selling small bouquets of the pretty little white flowers on bright green leaves. This is particularly traditional in Paris and in the Ile-de-France, but it all started with King Charles IX who was presented these flowers on May 1st in 1561 and decided to present them to the ladies of his court every year on this same day. About 350 years later, it became just the thing for the men to adopt the idea and express their affection for some lovely lady with a bouquet.

As a public holiday, banks, post offices, stores, etc., are closed, giving their employees the day off. May 1st became a special holiday in 1919 when they first introduced the eight-hour work day. During World War II, the Vichy Government called it “La Fête Internationale des Travailleurs,” but between 1944 and 1947 it wasn’t celebrated at all.

The month of May is a cornucopia of holidays in France, starting with today. Then, there’s May 8th, Victory Day (Fête de la Victoire), celebrating the end of hostilities in Europe in World War II. Ascension Day is May 10th and May 21st is Whit Monday or “Pentecôte” (Pentecost), but these are religious holidays, although celebrated since France is such a Catholic country. Mother’s Day is May 26th, but that doesn’t count, either, as a public holiday. Still, don’t expect to get much done in the month of May while everyone is doing the “faire le pont” thing — bridging from the weekend to a holiday to extend time off from work. (For a good site devoted to holidays, see

Happy May Day!

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds - May 1, 2012

Adrian Leeds
Adrian Leeds Group

(May 1, 2012)

Respond to Adrian

The Adrian Leeds Group

Timothy Jay Smith

P.S. Have you made your plans for May’s Après Midi? You won’t want to miss author Timothy Jay Smith Tuesday, May 14. Details are on our website. See you there!


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