It’s the last Friday in May, it must be time for a neighbourhood party! So what’s it all about, this “fête des voisins”? Read on to find out why neighbours all over France gather in streets, courtyards and other communal spaces for a neighbourhood party.
First let me tell you a story. It was around 9 o’clock on a lovely sunny evening at the end of May when four young Singaporeans appeared at the end of the lane, dragging heavy suitcases and dodging the potholes in the gravel. It was an unusual sight as 40 or so of us were enjoying an outdoor aperitif. Our lane is not made for suitcase dragging – it’s barely made for 4 wheel-drive cars – and nobody ever attempts to navigate it on foot with large luggage.
That was from our point of view. As from these strangers’ point of view, I imagine they didn’t expect quite such a public arrival at Lou Messugo nor so much going on in a quiet village street. Yes, these were the latest guests at our gîte turning up several hours late and without their car right in the middle of the annual neighbourhood street party!
So how did the Fête des Voisins begin?
In 1999, a man named Atanase Périfan created the first neighbourhood party “La Fête des Voisins” in his local district in Paris. His plan was to bring neighbours together in a “spirit of conviviality and solidarity“. It was an immediate success and attracted the support of Mairies (town halls) across the country.
The idea is for neighbourhoods to hold street parties, anything from a simple aperitif to a sit-down meal to get to know one another and reduce isolation. Everyone brings a contribution, streets are closed off, long tables are put together, tablecloths spread out and the party begins.
Last year 7 million French in 1200 towns participated and having spread internationally (World Neighbours Day) it now takes place in 33 countries. This year (2012) the newest to join the party is the Democratic Republic of Congo.
It has become an integral part of the calendar in France and some would say a little too commercial (it is now heavily sponsored by such giants as Nutella and even the name “La Fête des Voisins” has become a trademark!) The date is always set for the last Friday in May.
I’m not here to be political or critical. I enjoy it taken on face value and have organised our local party ever since we moved into Lou Messugo; this will be the 3rd year. There are 10 houses in the domaine, 50-60 people and the bit I like the best, 7 nationalities. We’re a melting pot of different cultures and traditions which are reflected in the dishes and drinks we prepare.
La Fête is very popular in our village with 18 registered gatherings this year at which our Mayor puts in an appearance and has a drink at each and every one (French village Mayors have a tough life!)
But let’s get back to the Singaporeans. I’d been expecting them to arrive by car mid-afternoon and had sent them driving directions. The domain is new and doesn’t feature on GPS systems so it’s pretty hard to find without detailed instructions.
Due to a mix-up at the rental company Wanda and her friends didn’t get a hire car and amazingly found their way by public transport from Nice Central train station without a word of French between them nor a phone call for help from me all the way to the house – and the party!
So they spent their first night in France eating paella and drinking rosé with a bunch of French, Belgians, Colombians, Peruvians, Australians, Austrians and English. I bet they didn’t expect that and who knows, perhaps they’ll be inspired to make Singapore the 34th country to join in the neighbourhood party. (Excuse the quality of the photo, it’s the only one I took!)
Do you have a neighbourhood party, a sort of “fête des voisins” where you live? Have you ever been to one?
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I think after the mammoth journey they had, La Fête des Voisins was a welcome surprise! It sounds like a wonderful way to celebrate different cultures, and let’s face it a street party is just fun! But it’s a shame it’s getting so commercialised.
And it shows my age that I remember the party for the Queen’s silver jubilee!!!
Sally, if you’re still in St E next year, you’ll have to organise one, I know you’re a great organiser!! (Should be easier than cricket championships in India). It’ll be good for your French!!!
Cheers to Atanase Périfan indeed!
Yes, it does provide a good sense of community, you’re right. We all get on very well in our neighbourhood.
Our town is very active in the Fête des Voisins, with about 35 different street parties going on and the Mairie provides tables and chairs, t-shirts, plastic cups, napkins etc for them all!
This post is several years old, this year was our 6th fête and going from strength to strength. Luckily we have a great neighbourhood, so yes, it really is fun.
Sounds like it’s lots of fun if it lasts through 2 meals!
Ours is yet to come. We can’t make the lunch but will join them in the evening as apparently they’ll still be going strong then!
Oops – failed again 🙁 Next year …. next year I will manage a fêtes des voisins!
Failed AGAIN this year as I’d arranged to go and see Downton Abbey at the cinema with friends!
I love the idea of street parties and I didn’t know there was a dedicated date either. Sounds fun.
I didn’t even realize there was an official date for these neighborhood parties. I know they take place in Rodez but I actually haven’t heard a lot about them in these parts. Yours looks great!
Such a great idea – we saw this advertised when we were in Provence a couple of weeks ago – I love the sense of community it brings
There’s certainly not enough “spirit of conviviality and solidarity” in this world, so I give many kudos to Atanase Périfan for coming up with the idea. Looks like there was plenty of fun at your neigborhood’s festivities.
I’m a big supporter of efforts to reduce isolation in communities. And there are so many reasons that it often becomes the ‘easy’ option. Good on the Frenchies for recognising it!
I love the Fete des Voisins, ours was last week and it was a hoot – no Singaporeans though!
What a great party! I wish we had more street parties in the UK – I remember one for the Golden Jubilee in the tiny London mews where I grew up and it was so much fun. Good for you for organising these and looks like your guests settled in perfectly! 🙂 #AllAboutFrance
After all they went through to get there, glad your Singaporean guests ended up the evening celebrating with you and your neighbors. [b]So[/b] much fun!:)
Seemed like the event was a hit. Block parties were my fave when I was a kid!
Block parties are so much fun thanks for sharing.
this is awesome.. there’s not many things like this around here, we have not friendly neighbors i guess
A nutella party… sounds fun and those pics tell me how much fun you guys had… feeling left out!
I am not a Party Peep but seeing photos of people enjoying any kind of party make me feel jealous but seeing them is enough for me. This street party idea is very inexpensive and sociable.
That looks so fun! 🙂
What an unexpected finish to their travels. I’m glad everyone had a blast!
Wow. I miss having neighborhood parties.
what an amazing journey.. good thing they still found their way
Looks like fun! Love Nutella, we had some for lunch today ourselves!
That is some crazy journey! But at least they made it! We do block parties on the 4th of July.. great times!
A party with nutella! Can it get better:)?
Looks like such a great time! I wish our neighborhood had parties like this!
It’s nice that they found their way via public transport. I’m sure they had a great time.
I would love to happen upon a street party. Looks like fun.
Eeek – I’m afraid it’s a fail – unless you count Ben’s party which he wants for next Saturday and I still haven’t helped him to organise. We’ve been so tied up sorting out the dead (ish) car that everything else has gone out of the window. Remind me earlier for NEXT year!
Definitely sounds like a plan Rosie! Report back next year if you do have a party, won’t you?
That’s a great story and well dome those Singaporeans! I hadn’t realised “La Fête des Voisins” was quite such a recent – or large – thing. We must try and do something this year … it falls very close to Ben’s’ birthday so I feel a France-British party might be in order!
What a great story, Phoebe! You seem to have had lots of fun 🙂
Blimey, a few months late in reading this comment t still sounding like a blast!