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Why French Dads Love Holidays...
Near Ile de Re, West Coast of France

by Sarah Shuckburgh

Many men now only join their families for a short part of the summer holiday - and family life takes even more of a battering across the Channel, explains Sarah Shuckburgh.

We Brits have always known that the French are expert lovers, so we shouldn't be surprised to learn that their holiday arrangements allow 'liaisons sentimentaux' to flourish.

Since the 1930s, French employers have been obliged by law to allow every worker a month's paid leave. Shops close and cities are deserted as families decamp for 'le mois d'août'. But not everyone takes the whole month off. For city husbands with wives and children safely ensconced at the seaside, 'les grandes vacances' provide a perfect opportunity to see more of their mistresses.

I am married to a Frenchman, so I have a certain insight into the summer state of affairs, as it were.

"I am discreet," claims one Parisian acquaintance of mine. "My wife may know, but she says nothing. Like that it is more dignified."

"I look forward to the summer," confides his mistress. "Pierre is married, but in August we can spend most of the week together. He joins his wife and children at the seaside every weekend."

French families traditionally return to the same place year after year - the 'haute-bourgeoisie' to their own holiday homes or rented villas along the glittering Côte d'Azur, or perhaps on trendy Ile de Ré, or in the fashionable resorts of Brittany and Normandy. The less well-heeled return each year to their favourite caravan or camping site.

Every summer, French children meet up with the same 'bande' of friends, and for them too romance beckons - last year's gawky 'gamine' reappears as this season's 'fille sensass.'

"We could always meet up in Paris after the summer, but we hardly ever do," says one teenager we know. "On holiday is where we have most fun."

The 'bon-chic-bon-genre' mothers don't seem to mind having some independence from their husbands. They too are members of 'bandes' - each woman obsessively careful of her appearance even on the beach. Exquisitely bronzed and elegant, they lounge in the sun, sipping carrot juice, comparing their children's successes and failures, and perhaps catching someone's eye for a summer dalliance.

One never knows what to believe about French lovers. It all seems far removed from my own chilly family holidays in Britain, with anoraks, tousled hair and not a scrap of makeup. But as Byron mused, "What men call gallantry and gods call adultery, is much more common where the climate's sultry".

First published by the Telegraph

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