A wrinkle in time

Your hair dryer might cause your European fuse to blow, damaging your dryer and leaving you with an air-dry-only option. This generally happens at the exact moment when jet-lag peaks and your confused stomach growls in objection to the recently ingested airplane food – one of life’s cruelest jokes.

However, it’s nothing compared to the dizzying jolt you experience when you set your sights on Perpignan, France for the first time. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to shake the initial image from my mind.

Cobblestone alleys meander to the edge of town where the ground quickly ascends to lush mountains that encompass the small city. I half expected Heidi and some yodelers to pop around the corner. Pastel-colored buildings loom over the streets and little cafes extend out onto the walkways, tempting tourists to sit down and indulge in some European coffee – one of life’s greatest treasures.

But the most intriguing marvel I’ve discovered isn’t actually tangible. I am fascinated with the French concept of time. Time seems to pass differently in Perpignan. First, there’s a strict 35-hour work week, six-week vacation minimum and two-hour lunch break. Restaurants stay open from twilight to sunup until the wine runs out – which is highly unlikely because wine is like air to the French community.

family life

family life

Recently in one of the city’s central markets, I sat and watched some social interaction among families. No one rushed to buy goods or wolfed down food to make it back to work on time. No one anxiously checked the time. Everyone appeared to be genuinely enjoying the lunch break, appreciative of the time to mingle with friends, relatives and acquaintances.

In Perpignan it seems to be a sacred rite.

Are these people happier and more optimistic because of the emphasis on social interaction as the best time spent? In the United States the competitive drive is so pervasive that I wonder if it harms our society and family life. I always feel like there is never enough time – it seems to vanish. When I observed these families, I was astonished at how dedicated they are to savoring every aspect of life.

Perhaps, the rest of Europe isn’t that way, and Perpignan flies solo when it comes to understanding the quality of life. Perhaps, Perpignan is merely a wrinkle in time. It’s definitely worth losing your hair dryer to find out.