Frenchie and the Gloomy Shutters

3 Feb

Have you ever noticed that an American street at 9:00p.m. is brighter and more full of life than a French street? If you have ever walked in sleepy suburbia or small town France, you know what I’m talking about. Curtains, doors, shutters, all French houses are closed and locked after a certain time – that is, at the time when the sunset brings down those last colorful rays in a pale sky making the atmosphere almost eerie yet intriguing. Well, the French are masters at making their streets creepier and gloomier than they already are when the darkness has settled thanks to their trusted shutters.

In case you don’t already know, Americans don’t use shutters and if you see some around windows, they’re fake! They are meant to be some sort of European-fairy-tale-decoration straight from Disneyland. It’s a style, or so they say. Now, what could be even more surprising (possibly disturbing?) to Europeans is that houses or apartment here are not guaranteed to come with blinds either – in France, if you live in a modern building without shutters, at least your place comes with pre-installed blinds that are built in the windows. Not so much on this side of the pond. While all of my previous apartments and condos had blinds when I moved in, the last two didn’t. For Europeans, the sight of no blinds or curtains attached to the windows is like a vampire’s nightmare. They’d burn and shrivel up right on the spot with agony knowing that the outside could see them in their home. Or maybe they’d sparkle, à la Twilight, in a more sophisticated Euro way.

Do the French secretly learn Gothic Homemaking tricks? Not quite. But they have mastered the creation of the perfect vampire house to keep eyes away from their personal lives. Americans on their other hand put their lives on a silver platter for everyone to admire and observe. Walking at night, you can see them eat, watch TV, doing the dishes, play cards, fight, laugh, host dinner parties and a million other things. Why? Because they never shut their blinds. Living in this country and understanding the concept of exposing one’s life to the outside world is a fun and sad mix of movie titles from Rear Window to I Know What You Did Last Summer. Yes, I know what my neighbors across the street did last weekend; they had a birthday party at 5:00p.m., I saw part of the festivities as I was reading on my couch. They can also probably tell you that I stopped reading after finishing chapter 9. Awkward!

The real explanation behind all this is simple: the French are very distrustful and will build their lives around that feeling (shutters, high fences around gardens and houses, clear separations between the house, the street and other houses) while Americans couldn’t care less and couldn’t be bothered the slightest by knowing that a stranger’s eye is peeking at their lives. This is why Americans wonder why French houses are protected as such and the French feel a certain nervousness at the openness of American houses. I used to shut my blinds right at 5 or 6:00p.m. when I first moved here and now I live in a place where there are no blinds in the living and dinning rooms. And I did not install any. Going from one extreme to the other? I’ve learned not to care as much – at least not as much as that one night back in the days when I realized too late that I had been cooking in my kitchen for an hour with the blinds open and noticed my neighbor looking and walking by. My instant reflex was to duck down.

One has to wonder if the French extreme use of shutters is a mere protection to prevent others from stealing their lives and privacy. It is interesting though that the word for “shutter” in French is volet, which homophone is voler meaning “to steal”.

shutter heART

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9 Responses to “Frenchie and the Gloomy Shutters”

  1. Cyril February 5, 2011 at 8:34 AM #

    As a European, my 1st reaction was: “Are people on the 1st floor crazy?!? Everybody can see them and what they’re doing!!!”
    So I asked my American friends whether there’s a dormant exhibitionist in every US citizen.
    According to them, it all goes back to the Puritans who reckoned they were so pure, they had nothing to hide.
    Nowadays, by displaying yourself, you show the community you’re not a psycho-killer, child/animal molester, Republican, etc.
    I guess we twisted Europeans like to fantasize about what’s going on behind closed windows 😉

    Like

  2. John in France February 7, 2011 at 4:51 PM #

    But most of your photos are from the south of France. Here it is so important to use shutters carefully during the day. These old stone buildings would heat up like ovens in the summer if shutters were not wisely used. Closing your shutters has nothing to do with stopping people seeing what you are doing.

    Like

    • D'Santo February 7, 2011 at 5:08 PM #

      Three pictures were taken in Corsica. The four other pictures are from Paris, the Loire Valley and Brittany.

      Like

      • John in France February 7, 2011 at 5:10 PM #

        What would a Corsican say if they were referred to as the South of France??? There’s a good topic for a blog!!!!

        Like

      • D'Santo February 7, 2011 at 5:11 PM #

        Excellent!

        Like

    • Craig November 4, 2013 at 6:49 PM #

      Correct. It’s not so much a privacy thing as a security and insulation thing. Window frames that are exposed to the elements don’t last as long. Also, in Northern France, the sun sets so late that it’s difficult to get kids to sleep at a reasonable hour without shutters.

      Like

  3. Lily January 13, 2015 at 5:05 PM #

    Frankly… Don’t you think we just use shutters because the sun awake us early in the morning? By the way, who cares about “homophones”? There is no connexion.
    If you think I’m wrong, then explain me the link between : “maire”, “mer” and “mère”. 😉

    Like

  4. saraenroute May 5, 2015 at 3:31 PM #

    I just moved to France and my landlords explained that every night I must shutter the window and I couldn’t for the life of me understand quite why. Thank you for helping clear this up!

    Like

  5. Vicky November 1, 2015 at 7:23 PM #

    All arround Europe have shutters.They protect the house from cold and glasses from dirt and it is for protection also.We don’t understand why americans don’t have any.However american houses are very pretty for me

    Like

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