Having lived my entire life in the USA, a country that takes pride in their ideology of the “American dream” (which, if we’re being honest, is working AT LEAST a 40 hour work week in hopes of becoming powerful and wealthy…). And furthermore, being born and raised in the big N-Y-C, I’m used to things i.e. restaurants, shopping malls, supermarkets etc. virtually being open 24/7. So, it was a major culture shock to me when I tried to go to a boulangerie one Sunday afternoon to satiate my hunger and to much dismay, found out that it was not open after I walked all the way there. As I enter my 5th week studying abroad in Paris, this French-styled siesta continues to be a difficult concept for me to wrap my head around.
The French love their time off! Most French people work a 35-hour work week with 5-weeks paid vacation time that is not including their time off for holidays. I’ve noticed many restaurants only open for brunch and again for dinner, and most remain closed on Sundays. Major shopping malls like Galeries Lafayette, BHV, and Printemps aren’t open on Sundays as well. This is so bizarre to me; Sunday, a day where major American cities would grapple at the opportunity to capitalize off of their tourists, is the day the French chose to rest. They seem to not care so much about such trivial things like making a profit. Why? Doesn’t everyone love money? The French would rather their long lunches at the nearest café and their Sundays off to spend time with their families or significant other. After doing some research, I propose that the French place a higher value on social interaction and leisure. Some may call the French lazy, but I say no: the French are simply in love with oxytocin (granted the immense amount of Parisian PDA I’ve witnessed). Oxytocin is a hormone that acts like a neurotransmitter in the brain and is released by the hypothalamus. In humans, oxytocin is thought to be released during hugging, touching, and orgasm in both sexes, it induces a general sense of well-being including calm, improved social interactions, increased trust, and reduced fear (Ishak et al., 2011).
A recent study looked at the social buffering hypothesis and the governing effects of oxytocin (Smith and Wang, 2014). The social buffering hypothesis states that social animals are better able to recover from stressful experiences (i.e. the work-place) through positive social interaction (Kikusui et al., 2006). The researchers hypothesized that oxytocin plays a role in the stress response in rodent models. To test this hypothesis, female prairie voles were exposed to 1-hour immobilization stress and then recovered alone or with their male partner to mimic the effect of social contact. They then treated immobilized female voles recovering alone with oxytocin or vehicle and female voles recovering with their male partner with a selective oxytocin receptor antagonist or vehicle. If the researchers did not use the appropriate controls, we would not be able to determine the mediating effects of oxytocin on the stress response. The researchers found that 1 hour immobilization decreased the amount of time female voles recovering alone explored the open arms in an elevated plus maze and increased corticosterone levels in comparison to female voles recovering with their partners and the controls (Figure 1). Intra-paraventricular nucleus oxytocin injections reduced behavioral and corticosterone responses to immobilization, whereas injections of an oxytocin receptor antagonist blocked the effects of the social buffering. The male partner acted as a social buffer which increased oxytocin release in the paraventricular nucleus (PVN) of the hypothalamus in the female. Using an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, the researchers found that immobilized female prairie voles that recovered with a male partner had a significantly lower level of oxytocin in the PVN compared with other groups (Figure 3C). By use of microdialysis, the researchers identified increased levels of extracellular oxytocin concentrations (Figure 4B). These data demonstrate that PVN oxytocin release is increased with social interaction.
I chose this paper to propose a reason for the short work weeks many Parisians possess. The French seem to understand the necessity of healthy human interaction when it comes to the everyday stresses of life. Money can make someone happy only for so long, but in the end, it’s the meaningful connections with others that are maintained over these lunch breaks and restful weekends that can aid in lowering stress levels and increasing happiness. Both factors makes for a healthier individual. Hmm, maybe NYC should shut down on Sundays… Ha! Now that’s never going to happen. Just the thought of Times Square without people seems rather ridiculous, better yet scary O_O!
Until next time! Au revoir!
Ishak W, Kahloon M, and Fakhry H. (2011) Oxytocin Role in Enhancing Well-being: A Literature Review. Journal of Affective Disorders 130(1-2): 1-9.
Kikusui T., Winslow J. T. , and Mori Y (2006) Social Buffering: Relief from Stress and Anxiety. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society Biological Sciences 361(1476): 2215-2228.
Smith A., and Wang Z. (2014) Hypothalamic Oxytocin Mediates Social Buffering of the Stress Response. Biological Psychiatry 76(4): 281-288.