What I Did for Summer Vacation By Kristen C.

So there’s pretty much no way not to sound bougie about this so I’m just gonna come out and type it: We went to France for summer vacation.

And when I say “vacation,” all parents (especially those of teenagers) know this is code for “forced family togetherness.” Was it spendy and crazy in light of our world today? Yes, but also who knows when we can be together for maximum family enjoyment (and occasional annoyance) since No. 1 graduated from college and is flying the nest to start adulting in another state. 

It had to be done. So we did it. And this is what it looked like.

France was very……HOT. It was such a bummer to look forward to escaping the triple-digit desert heat only to encounter … triple-digit French heat. I got to second base with the portable a/c units in every store and apartment.

The thing I liked least about France was…..THE ROADS. My husband is quite intrepid and didn’t hesitate to slide behind the wheel of a family-sized, four-door Renault sedan on the mean streets of France. Our rental was a Talisman. (Cars there had weird names: Seat, Cactus.) As shotgun passenger, I had a very, very important job since we opted against the additional rental insurance, which was to hang my head out the window and make sure we didn’t scrape the car against anything on those streets, which were so skinny that even two supermodels would have to turn sideways to pass each other.

We had maybe been in the car for all of 3 minutes before encountering our first test: passing safely between a stopped delivery truck and a curbed sidewalk. All the Talisman’s warning signals flashed and beeped angrily. There was just no way. We were going to be stuck in the tight Paris street forever.

A kindly, passing pedestrian motioned for us to pull forward.

“You can make it,” he said. “Just the tire is on the curb, not the rim. It’s OK!”

We inched past the truck at 2 liters* per hour and everyone finally exhaled. I’m pretty sure there was a scene just like this in one of the “Fast and Furious” movies.

France has traffic lights and even marked lanes, but all of it seems more like suggestion rather than rule. At one point, four lanes of traffic squooshed into one and as my husband pondered what the natural order was, No. 3 noted: “You just feel it out. That’s how their traffic works.”


Equally harrowing: parallel parking ‘cuz some jack wagon is gonna pull in front of you and make your life difficult. To wit:

France is a classy country because…. It has wine and real glasses at its rest stops and pink toilet paper in the women’s bathroom! C’est chic.

The weirdest thing that happened was…. getting jumped into a street gang. At least I think that’s what happened. We were fresh off the plane and ripe to get hustled at the Sacre-Coeur de Montmartre when a quartet of loud, happy dudes circled us, each one grabbing a wrist while chatting us up and quickly spinning colorful threads into “friendship” bracelets before we realized what was going on. They were fast and efficient, and I hope they spent their 5 euros well.

The best con of the whole trip was when…. we spent 44 euros on nougat. Not just any nougat, but the best French nougat in Menton with no added sugar and made from whipped egg whites and almonds by a small, family-owned business. The pageantry was nonpareil, with the owner roping in my husband to grab the other end of a two-handled knife to saw off a hunk of nougat. We laughed as they stood on tip toe to cut through the thick wheel. My husband went along for the ride and didn’t realize until too late that the stuff was sold by weight. Doh. Or, as the French would say le doh.

The best part of the trip was…. It wasn’t soaking up the beautiful sights, it definitely wasn’t driving on the overly bendy, nausea-inducing roads or the yawn-y contemporary art museum with the escalators placed on the outside of the building in clear hamster-cage tubes as you rode up to the sixth floor where the extra boring art was. No, the best part was just all of us being together 24-7 and yes, while eight days is the maximum amount of time for full-on togetherness and things did get dicey in the remaining five days of our adventure, I wouldn’t have changed a thing — except the 12-point turn up a steep mountain pass into oncoming traffic.

Random observations:

Don’t believe the hype over European high-speed trains. They’re a joke.

The Tour de France did not live up to the hype.

A rope TP holder in a California Airbnb says “jaunty beach theme.” In France? It reads “noose.”

Also, say what you will about America, but at least there’s no such thing as pay public toilets. I always made sure to take advantage of an opportunipee when a free Louvre** was available.

*This may not be the correct metric measurement.

**Oh, I think I got that wrong. It’s loo!

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