Notes from Paris, where vacation envy is acute

Jim Bittermann, CNNUpdated 14th August 2015
Editor's Note — Jim Bittermann is a CNN senior correspondent based in Paris.
Paris (CNN) — It is the season of high risks for those of us who live in Paris.
Not only does the unwitting pedestrian run the risk of getting a jab in the eye from some tourist's selfie stick or getting run down by visitors on rent-a-bikes ignoring the mayor's nicely laid out bicycle lanes or gamble on otherwise colliding with every manner of tourist conveyance criss-crossing the streets.
But even the nontourists, the Parisians themselves, become hazards this time of year.
Not all French, after all, can afford to go off on what most consider their "well-deserved" five-week vacations in the sun. Some have to stay behind to keep the buses and subways running and to serve the visitors cheap rosé.
Those Parisians who are obliged to stay behind, who cannot head off for the coasts or cross the Atlantic to marvel at "Le Grand Canyon," wander around the streets like the shell-shocked on a battlefield.
Unlike during more stressful times of the year, they sit in a daze at traffic lights that have long been green; they let others cut in front of them in lines, less out of courtesy than out of boredom; and they weave along the sidewalks and teeter into the streets, concentrated on trying to send and read text messages.
What are they communicating about? More often than not, I think, it's the endless conversations about where they eventually will go on vacation when it is finally their turn to flee the city.
This is because there are few places on the planet where the local inhabitants suffer from vacation envy more than this one.
You would think that living full-time in a city that is itself considered one of the world's top tourist destinations -- which incites millions to spend thousands each year just to get here -- you would think that those who actually live in Paris would be content just to be in Paris.
But no.
What those listless Parisians who have been left behind are thinking about, I am convinced, is how they will come up with a better vacation to brag about than their neighbors.
When everyone gets back to work -- sometime toward the middle of September -- the first topic of conversation is not who won the Tour de France or what new taxes the government has imposed for the "rentrée" (literally the "re-entry," that moment when vacations are well and truly over and one must finally re-enter the workaday world).
No, the first topic of conversation is where you spent your vacation. And it had better be good, even if it was miserable.
But on the other hand, you don't want to spin a time-off tale that is too exotic -- e.g. "I spent three weeks in the Tanzanian rain forest with Jane Goodall, hoping to improve my great ape calls" -- because it might provoke a hostile reaction since a) your listener may not have had the genius or Euros to come up with something quite so special and b) your listener may not have been on vacation yet and thus maybe be in a state of high grumpiness.
So the trick is to weave a negative or two into your holiday conceit, something everyone can identify with: "I trekked through the Kazakh Steppes, and you know there wasn't a decent steak-frites for miles."
Or "We spent our vacation harvesting quinoa in the Andes, but do you think anyone could find us a croissant for breakfast?"
In any case, you get the idea. In France, vacations are not about the destination, it's the journey -- and the bragging rights -- that count!
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