Eat sufficient meals and shut the shutters – French government advice for staying cool in a heatwave

Eat sufficient meals and shut the shutters - French government advice for staying cool in a heatwave
Photo: AFP
With the mercury rising and a heatwave forecast to last for at least a week, we take a look at the French government's advice on staying cool.

French weather forecaster Météo France predicts that temperatures will start to climb on Thursday afternoon and the high temperatures are set to last for at least a week.

Temperatures are predicted to reach 34-37C in northern France and 40C in the south from Thursday onwards. It is not expected the records set during last year's heatwave will be broken, but it will still be pretty warm.

This year of course has the additional challenge of incorporating extra hygiene gestures and health rules such as mask-wearing into keeping cool.

So here's what the French government suggests you do

Drink plenty of water

Hopefully this is an obvious one, but when the temperature shoots up you do need to stay hydrated.

Eat in sufficient quantities

Very French-sounding advice, but in hot weather it's easy to lose your appetite and few things will make you feel faint faster than not having eaten enough.

The French government's graphic (below) suggests a hearty meal involving a whole chicken leg, but we're pretty sure you are allowed to make your own dinner choices. This being France, it's likely that whatever you choose will be delicious.

Graphic: Ministère de Santé et Solidarité

Shut the shutters

This often sounds counter-intuitive to northern Europeans who have grown up in homes without shutters, but actually they work very well to keep your home cooler in the summer (as well as warm in the winter). Keep the shutters and windows shut during the day when the heat is at its height and then open both in the evening to allow in the cooler air.

Avoid alcohol

On a scorching day sometimes only the thought of an ice-cold pint gets you through, but the French government actually recommends avoiding alcohol. It will dehydrate you, so maybe at least drink in moderation if you can't resist a cheeky chilled rosé on a summer evening.

Jump in a fountain

OK, this isn't word-for-word what the government says, the official advice is 'get your body wet' but jumping into a fountain or water feature is a pretty good way to achieve this. Unlike in Italy, where people are strictly forbidden from getting into fountains, in France authorities at least tolerate it and on hot days in Paris, water features like that on the Trocadero are crammed with people cooling off.

There will probably be fewer tourists this year, but the Trocadero is always a popular spot to cool off. Photo: AFP

Cities including Paris have activated their hot weather plans so you will see brumisateurs – machines pumping out cool water vapour – on the streets and if course there are plenty of swimming spots in the city including the two Paris plages sites.

You will also see little bottles of water with a mister that will spray cool vapour onto your face on sale in pharmacies and supermarkets. A quick note, however, that you shouldn't use these if you are wearing a mask, as wet masks are ineffective and should be changed.

Breathe through your nose

This brings us to mask wearing, which is compulsory in all indoor public spaces and France and outdoor spaces in many areas of the country.

MAP Where in France is it compulsory to wear a mask in the street? 

Masks can be pretty hot and sweaty to wear, but the advice is to breathe through your nose, not your mouth, to keep as cool as possible. 

Check on family and neighbours, especially the elderly

France is still haunted by the memory of the heatwave of 2003 when 15,000 people, most of them elderly, died. Since then a lot of work has been done on protecting the elderly and vulnerable during heatwaves.

Paris has from Thursday introduced its 'level 3' heatwave plan which includes free deliveries of fans to people registered as elderly and vulnerable, opening up air-conditioned 'cool rooms' in public buildings for people to go and cool off and opening extra accommodation for the homeless.

Nevertheless everyone is asked to check in with elderly or vulnerable people that they know to see if they are coping with the heat.

Swim safely

It's a sad fact that every summer in France dozens of people drown after getting into difficulty while trying to cool off in lakes, rivers or the sea. The government advises never swimming alone.

Don't forget those gestes barrières

And of course the standard Covid-19 advice is still in place – wash your hands regularly and use hand gel, keep at least 1m apart from people and where a mask when needed.


For more advice, including for parents of young children and people working outdoors in the heat, head to the French health ministry's website.

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