What is “La Canicule”?

Anyone traveling to, within or living in France will be well aware that this week we’re in the midst of another canicule – but what is it?

In short, a canicule is something along the lines of what English speakers usually refer to ask a “heat wave”, however to be defined as a canicule these three conditions must be met:

  • It’s very hot during the day. Usually this means 30 degrees C and above.
  • The temperature does not drop much at night.
  • The above conditions persist for several days.

When a heat wave hits you start to see signs on the auto routes, warning you of the dangers and it gets talked about alot on the radio.

Surviving a Canicule

So how to handle it? It’s tempting if you’re on holiday to get out there and make the most of the heat. If that’s your thing and you have nothing else to do, go for it. With two young children and a day-to-day to maintain we have now gone native with our response to it: one of the luxuries of living here is not having to burn yourself to a crisp to feel like you’ve made the most of the weather! Living in France means you can slow down to the generally accepted pace and adopt a rhythm that is more in keeping with the weather. This means…

Getting anything active out of the way early in the morning. Whether that’s physical work outside, sport, or nipping to the shops, it’s best done as soon after the sun comes up as you can manage.

Stay indoors and keep cool! Before moving here I often wondered why French houses had shutters – and now I know. Careful management of the shutters not only keeps your house cool but can also help keep control of the flies, to some degree. To manage your shutters like a native, close the shutters (and windows) on the South facing side when the sun is on them, and open any on the cool/shady side. Ideally you can leave the shutters a little bit ajar, so there’s room for the warm air to escape rather than getting trapped behind them. In the UK we used to shut the curtains to keep the heat out but shutters really are the best thing for this: they do a great job.

Make the most of the evening. Whether you head to a river, the beach or a swimming lake, into the forest for a stroll, or off out to one of the many wonderful spectacles that happen at this time of year, evening is the best time to go out. Hopefully you used the time you were stuck indoors during the day to have your main meal, which that means you’re ready to go out and enjoy the evening. This rhythm works really well with small people who really do need to be kept in during the heat of the day, and it’s nice to be able to go out in the evening armed only with a few things for them to nibble on: no need to pack a giant picnic or watch in dismay as they hardly eat anything because they’re too busy swimming/playing.

When you are out:

  • Wear a hat. Keeping the sun out of your eyes and off your head really helps reduce it’s intensity.
  • Use good sun protection. I’m all about mineral sunscreen at the moment (non-nano zinc gets my vote) – and factor 50 or a rash vest for in the water, to be on the safe side.
  • Drink lots of water. If you often find you have headaches after a day in the sun then it’s worth adding a little electrolyte powder to the bottle.
  • Seek out shade. If you have to be out in the day try to stay in the shade as much as possible!

All common sense really – but as heat is not something we had to deal with so much in the UK there is some adapting to do.

Useful Links

French Government site about the risks

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