There was a time when Paris closed down on the first day of August. The Parisians abandoned their city and left it to a skeleton staff of waiters and a handful of bakeries and restaurants to look after the tourists.
Most Parisians headed for the beaches in the south or the west. Or they set off to a crumbling ancestral home in the countryside, where they would take up traditional August pursuits, such as quarrelling with their siblings or cousins.
But something strange has been happening in recent years and especially this summer. The recession and changing social patterns mean that the French, including the Parisians, no longer go on holiday en masse. Around 40 per cent will not go away on holiday at all this year.
Hence a new French verb: “staycationner”. What are you doing this August? “Je staycationne.” I am staying at home and making trips to the countryside or the park, or beach.
One group of people who could afford to go away are reluctantly joining the “staycation” movement. President François Hollande has noted that ministerial holidays provide a constant source of silly season stories for the French press. He has urged his troops to stay close to home to be available to firefight crises and not to anger the staycationing voters.
And Mr Hollande? He has let it be known that he will travel only as far as La Lanterne, the “French Chequers”, a giant bungalow in the grounds of the Palais de Versailles.