France’s Magic Hour

If you’ve been in France long enough, you’ll start to notice a magic hour. I’m not talking about the magic hour for photography that happens right before the sun rises or sets, but the magic hour that takes place around 2 in the afternoon.

Abroad, my alarm clock for days in which I wanted to sleep in was the chatter of children floating up from the daycare across the street; when I tried to sleep early, various raucous groups of teens chain-smoke underneath my window; for some particular reason, the hours of construction on whatever it is they’re constructing (I have never seen evidence of this) was between the hours of 6 and 8 in the morning; and, the clock tower unrelentingly chimes on the hour as well as random times in between just to remind you of its existence.

However, sometime around 2 in the afternoon, for the length of a good conversation, a truly remarkable silence will fall. I hadn’t noticed this until halfway through my 6-month stay, which also sparked the realization of how noisy life can be. If you can catch the European day on its sweet spot, you’re rewarded with a blissful tranquility that goes unmatched. Try it next time you’re in France—take a walk at 2 PM (this only works in smaller towns aka not Paris).

2 PM is when the restaurants close before opening again for dinner; it’s when all the citizens are happily sated and nearly comatose in the languor that was their lunch. During this moment, there exists no children, transportation seems to have arrested, and the town takes on a ghosttown-like quality. You enter almost a forced state of meditation. The silence has a quality similar to that of a university library—but less stressful; it encourages creativity, deep thought, and gratitude.

This, you realize, is what the world would sound like if you were the only living human.

france's magic hour It’s completely pointless to waste the magic hour on catching up with your errands or doing homework. This hour is meant to be enjoyed, to be present and just living. There’s no need to be productive for every hour of the day; you have to slow down life in order to enjoy it fully.

To this day, this is the most important lesson I’ve learned while abroad is how to slow life down.

While in Europe, I was never swept away in the mass anxiety to do something the way I feel in the States. It was widely understood that each person has his/her own pace and they were welcome to continue at it. I miss the 3-hour long dinners that we would have as a group—eating, talking, laughing. Though nothing significant happened during these times (if you asked me what we talked about, I would shrug, utterly clueless), though no one moment stood out as a realization that these people had become my people, I knew it was because of these languorous meals that formed friendships.

Some were frustrated at how long this process took and I understood; not everyone has the time to dedicate for 3+ hours just to eat. But at the same time, learning how to just let time go, loosen your eye off the clock, and regain some life as a result is a good lesson to learn. And thankful that I was lucky enough to have had a time in my life where I had no obligations—just to live life to the fullest.

Since coming back home, I’ve kept a close eye on my perception of time. If I don’t have that time each day or even every other day to just live in the moment, I can start to feel as if I’m behind for some reason. I used to think that this just meant I wasn’t filling my time up with enough productive things to do, that all I needed to do was take on yet another hobby, yet another thing to occupy all this time we’re given, but it wasn’t.

I’ve come to realize that it was exactly the opposite, that I was just being swept away in this mass hysteria to prove myself, to make something of myself, to do everything I can during my spare time to develop. Have you ever noticed that when filling each second of each day with some sort of productive activity makes it feel as if those seconds have slipped by unnoticed? Even if it’s something you truly enjoy doing, time still slips away quietly—irreversibly. I wasn’t behind on my productivity, far from it actually; I was behind on enjoying life. By blocking out a period of 10 minutes to an hour where you just take a step back and breathe, you’ll find yourself more capable to tackle on your everyday life.

Today, I dedicate a whole Sunday to this kind of activity. In a way, I’ve created and lengthened my own magic hour to a whole day; a day I like to call Recalibration. To me, Sunday is not a day to run errands or to catch up with work, it’s a day for a different kind of catch up. During this day, I usually spend the whole day reading (articles, books, whatever sparks my curiosity), cooking, or writing without ever seeing another soul. Generally, I prepare myself for the upcoming week through a little soul loving. So enjoy it, because the magic hour is always temporary.

Always say ‘yes’ to the present moment… Surrender to what is. Say ‘yes’ to life – and see how life starts suddenly to start working for you rather than against you. 
– Eckhart Tolle

The present moment, if you think about it, is the only time there is. No matter what time it is, it is always now.
– Marianne Williamson

If you abandon the present moment, you cannot live the moments of your daily life deeply.
– Nhat Hanh

What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned (abroad)? What do you usually do on Sundays? Do you have a similar “recalibration” process?

Short announcement: I’ll be traveling until March 25th in San Francisco, which is why I won’t be able to respond/do bloggy things that I normally do! But, that doesn’t mean I don’t wholly appreciate the comments you guys leave and will respond to all of them when I come back. I’ll be posting updates on Twitter and Instagram (links below) so you can follow along! Until then, see you! :)

Twitter | Bloglovin | Instagram

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  • Madaline

    Love this. It also happens in Italy – all the kids are at home sleeping, the tourists are… actually I don’t know where they are but they go away, and everyone who works is back at work – i love to loose myself in the streets in the afternoon.

    • Michelle @ Mishfish13

      Haha I figured it was a general European thing but didn’t want to generalize! I love these moments—these are perfect times to takes strolls, haha :)

  • Marcella ~ WhatAWonderfulWorld

    Oh wow, beautiful post. I really admire how lots of countries take it slower. I feel like in the UK we are constantly running around and I feel like I need to fill the whole day with something! Chilean culture is much slower too and I felt I had more time to just *breathe*
    Have a wonderful trip, looking forward to reading all about it :)

    • Michelle @ Mishfish13

      Thanks so much, Marcella! That really means a lot. I agree—I feel like English-speaking countries are more prone to the rush that I feel in the states.

  • Anna | slightly astray

    I LOVE this post Michelle!! The writing is beautiful! I loved the days I had on a Thai island, because for the first time, I wasn’t connected to the internet, and I spent those days doing the things I enjoyed – cooking, reading, yoga, etc. – completely guilt free. Since then, I’ve told myself to dedicate a day a week to doing just that. But that never happened. I always feel like I need to be doing something too (but I do make sure I read for fun everyday). Thanks for the reminder to slow down. I think it’s really important to just *live* and enjoy ourselves!

    • Michelle @ Mishfish13

      Aww, thanks Anna!! That means a lot to me :) Oh yeah, disconnection from the internet is a BIG thing! It would be too easy to waste this hour just browsing the net. Haha, I do the same thing! If I’m not able to dedicate enough time to myself, I make sure that I at least squeeze in a bit for reading :) Hopefully you find that balance soon!

  • Marianne

    Oh man I’m definitely familiar with the “magic hour!” I love it.

    And I’d say I’m like you – I definitely need recalibration time on a fairly regular basis. I wouldn’t say I have a certain day set aside for it though, although that sounds amazing.

    • Michelle @ Mishfish13

      Isn’t it great?! Haha, I try to now that I feel like a whole chunk of my life is dedicated towards working…

  • Polly

    This is lovely Michelle. That’s a wonderful takeaway from your travels & something I wish more countries/people would adapt. I think I need to snipe some of your mindfulness for myself.

    • Michelle @ Mishfish13

      Thanks, Polly :) I wish everyone could adapt it… we’d all be much calmer people!

  • Kerri

    We have a church near us that chimes all the time. It chimes every day at 7:55am & 6:55pm, for about a minute and then chimes the hour five minutes later. I have yet to work out why…

    Sundays are usually my favourite day of the week. Since everything is shut on Sundays, it easily became our day to do nothing. How does that saying go “time enjoyed wasted is not wasted time” or something like that. That’s a good one. I did take me a long time to come to terms with a relaxing Sunday, but I don’t think I could be without it now.

    • Michelle @ Mishfish13

      Haha “guys, get ready, it’s coming. Get ready!” … “IT’S 7:00!!!”

      I think part of the reason why I was able to appreciate it was the everything-closed-on-Sundays thing! It forces you to be unable to run errands on a day that a lot of people here choose to run errands. (Although I complained at first).

  • Lani

    This was such an interesting post. Love it for several reasons, one, learning about the magic hour in France and two, learning about your Sunday and three, your takeaway from living abroad. I have too many things I’ve learned from living abroad, and have written blog posts about them. But I will say, yes, slowing down and enjoying the moment has been one of them :) Safe travels!

    • Michelle @ Mishfish13

      Thanks, Lani! I’m glad it was so multi-functional, hehe. I feel like the longer you stay in a country, the more you learn.

  • laurenonlocation

    Love love love this! I totally agree that the most valuable lesson I’ve learned abroad is to slow down and enjoy my life. In the States I was always worried about what I would do next, always in a rush and hardly ever gave myself a minute to just sit, think and relax. It’s actually one of my biggest fears that I’ll go back to the States and easily forget everything I’ve learned over here about time and life. Europeans (well most) just know how to enjoy life so much more! More vacation time, less work time, more family importance. I think people in the US need to adapt some of these values! So, I love your idea of the Sundays! That’s what Sundays are for anyway, isn’t it? What happened to the good ol’ days where all businesses closed on Sundays and everyone stayed home with their families?

    • Michelle @ Mishfish13

      Thanks Lauren!! It’s hard especially coming BACK to the states and then being overwhelmed by what seems like EVERYONE’S productivity levels! That’s also one of my biggest fears—I actually wrote Thursday’s post on this—is that my mind won’t be as open as it was when I was abroad.

      Yes! In France, they still close everything on Sundays, so I was forced to incorporate that into my life, haha.

  • Melanie Fontaine

    Love this post, Mish! Your writing is so incredibly on point! :) I also love the idea of slowing down and actually experiencing more of life because of slowing down – so true, but something I often tend to forget. Thanks for the reminder! :)

    • Michelle @ Mishfish13

      Thanks, Mel! :) I think we all forget to do so sometimes…

  • Holly Hollyson

    Beautiful post Michelle. And beautiful pictures. I know just what you mean about this time in France x

    • Michelle @ Mishfish13

      Thanks, Holly!