The French will tell you they don’t have flies and they don’t have mosquitoes (under duress they might admit to mosquitoes, but never on the second floor). They’ll tell you this with a straight face and absolute conviction even as they swat one away; even as stores sell fly swatters, fly paper strips, and those battery-powered tennis-racket bug-zapper things.
It’s hogwash, of course. It’s a belief system. And it is the foundation of another oddity: they don’t believe in window or door screens.
It sounds weird to say they don’t believe in window screens; it’s like saying someone doesn’t believe in ball pein hammers, but it’s true. You don’t find screens on windows. You find open windows, open to the world and to all the flies and mosquitoes that don’t exist in France.
Walk down a street in Paris or walk the streets of a country village and you will pass open windows. Big, wide-open windows. No screens.
Our friends who owned the cottage in the Aude where we stayed for a number of years finally got tired of the flies and mosquitoes that don’t exist (they lived with mosquito netting over their bed), and tried to get screens for their windows. They had to find a carpenter who would do it. They found one. He did it, reluctantly, apparently convinced it was an unnecessary extravagance by those wacky Americans. It took him several weeks to make them. Special order.
We sit here in our apartment with the windows closed, listening to the thud of flies and mosquitoes on the glass, looking across the way at our neighbors’ open windows and wondering, “How can they do that? How can their house not be full of flying insects? Do they just will them away?”
This belief that flies and skeeters don’t exist, which leads to no need for screens, is either concurrent with or the progenitor of something even more un-American: The French don’t believe in air conditioning.
It is ubiquitous in the US–everything has air conditioning. In France it is almost impossible to find. I have never been in a home that has air conditioning of any kind. In stores, restaurants, and offices it is exceedingly rare. If you’re hot, open a window. You know, the ones with no screens, because there are no flies or mosquitoes.
Air conditioning is viewed as some kind of super special luxury, so much so that if a business actually has it, there is a sign out front that announces it: Climatisation!
Restauranteurs believe the cure for being too hot inside is dining alfresco: eat outside, sometimes in the shade of an awning or canopy, sometimes under nothing except the sun.
Interestingly, while flies and mosquitoes do not exist in the mind of the French, they are quick to acknowledge and warn you of a charming thing called a Frelon, a hornet that shows up in mid-summer for a several-week long engagement.
These suckers have a buzz the sound of a small aircraft engine, and they’re huge. They could use landing gear and tail numbers. They get into the house through…well, you know where. When you draw the shutters closed you can hear them slam into them outside. And they will sting.
The only advantage you have is they fly slowly. They lumber. As aircraft go they are heavy bombers, not fighters, and so, armed with a tennis racket bug zapper, they’re moderately easy to swat down. Then you can pitch the corpses out the window, which conveniently has no screen on it.