25 Reflections: Boundaries

The rhythms of French life, especially in a small rural village, have taken some getting used to. The first week I was here, I went out into the village on a Monday at 8:45 a.m. to try to rustle up some baked goods for breakfast. The main village bakery was closed because, as I discovered that day, they are always closed on Mondays. I found another bakery, and I was informed that I was too early. I was told that shops don’t really open until 9 or 10.

I later found out that the same shops that open at 9 or 10 close down from 12 to 2 for a lunch break. As time went on, this made a lot of sense to me because the ONLY time that the restaurants are open for lunch is from 12 to 2. Don’t try to eat before or after this time, because nothing will be open. Dinner is at 7 PM. We discovered that if you show up before that, things will be locked down tight.

This all took some getting used to because I’m accustomed to American culture where if you have a business, you are expected to be OPEN, every day, all the time. When Americans enter the workforce, our lives are built around meeting this expectation. And honestly, it is exhausting.

Businesses in our village also close down seasonally. Autumn was a very quiet time and lots of businesses were closed. Kaysersberg was HOPPING during the Christmas season–I’m talking 50 tour busses a day. Everything was wide open and in full swing. But now that has died down completely and everything is “fermé”–or closed. Probably only 10% of the businesses in the village are open.

At one point a few months ago, when we were looking for a place to eat (probably at the wrong hours of the day) and encountered yet another “fermé” sign–my daughter Sydney remarked that “the French are really good at boundaries.” I’ve thought about that a lot since then. The French ARE really good at boundaries. It is something I hope to emulate.

It has been really refreshing to live in a culture that values rest. Yes, it means that there are fewer hours of the day that I can access services–but over time you just figure that out and plan accordingly. Time to eat, to shop, to be with family is built into the rhythm of community life. Personal time is valued immensely and there are boundaries around it that are respected.

When I get home, I fully expect that creating the healthy boundaries I want to create for myself is going to feel a little like swimming upstream in a culture that wants you to be always reachable, always open, always on. But I’m very inspired by my French friends. So if you come to my house and there is a big sign on the door that says “fermé”–don’t be alarmed. Just know that I needed a little space and things will be open again in a few days or weeks.

For other things I have learned on our adventure in France, check out 25 Reflections: Seeing My Children.