Joyeux Noel

Conversations with France, Holidays in France

Before leaving for the United States, I saw France out at the Christmas Market in town.

France:  Hello!  American friend, hello!!

France is waving wildly and jumping up and down.  I turn behind me to see whose attention is being sought…surely not mine.

France:  Oui, for you, so silly!

France laughs gaily and waves me over.

Me:  Ah…bonsoir, France.

France:  Bonsoir, mon amie!  It has been a long time, yes?

Me:  Yes, I guess so, not since the “Total Eclipse of the Heart” situation.

France:  Ah yes, this was very funny.  We always have such a good time.

In my mind I think, “do we?”  France gives me a friendly slap on the back.

France:  And what will you drink?  A vin chaud?

Me:  Oui, yes, sounds good!  You are in a very good mood today.

France pauses and gives me an exasperated look.

 France:  Is this okay with you?  Pfff…always the same, never satisfied.  It is the Marché de Noël, eh?  Maybe you can try to not ruin a party for once, uh?  Pfff….

Me:  Sorry, sorry, it’s just so – are those animatronic bears?

France:  Mais oui, they are very nice, yes?  Luke (look) at them playing their instruments, I love eet (it)!

I look over at the four animatronic polar bears playing a string quartet with wonder.  This seems very un-French. 

 Me:  You know, I didn’t think the market would be so festive.  I mean, this is really hardcore.

France:  What do you expect, American?  Ronald McDonald with a Santa hat?

France says this with an eye roll.

 Me:  No, it’s just, you know…

France looks at me questioningly.

 Me:  Well, in the U.S. we really celebrate things intensely, lots of decorations, lots of costumes.  I mean, they don’t even have to be our own holidays – St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo, Bastille Day even…we don’t discriminate.  So, in France it is a bit more subdued; I just didn’t expect the Christmas decorations to be so over the top!

France:  Over the top?  It is a few lights, a market, this is normal!

Me:  Yes, yes, it is all very normal but –

I am interrupted as an accordion player wanders through the crowd playing Christmas carols.  She passes out sheets of paper with the music on them and the whole crowd joins in to sing with her.  France joins in loudly.

 Me:  What is happening?  Strangers are breaking out into spontaneous musical numbers together…and they are FRENCH.  Is this a joke?

France:  Stop being so, ah what is this word…SCROOGE!  Oui, stop being so scrooge!

Me:  I’m not being a Scrooge, I am just very confu-

France hands me my glass of vin chaud. 

 France:  Now, I will go and get us some foie gras sandwiches.  Here, you can sing.

France thrusts the music into my hand and goes to the stand to get the sandwiches.  Once in line, France gives me a ‘thumbs up’ and waves at me and I must smile. 

 Christmas really is a magical time of year. 

Joyeux Noël and Happy Holidays to all!  I will return in the New Year!

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The 7 Stages of an Awkward Dinner

Holidays in France

MB found the place online and it looked charming, a 15th century farmhouse in the country, excellent reviews on trip advisor, and only thirty minutes from town.  What could possibly go wrong?  So we packed our little overnight bags, hopped in the car, and made our way out of the city for a relaxing Saturday in the country. 

After a half hour and a couple of wrong turns we finally made our way to the gate of the B&B.  It was night time and we couldn’t see much but all seemed promising.  We were ushered in by the effusive and friendly hostess who quickly showed us to our rooms along with another couple.  The place was beautiful, there was stone work and exposed beams, murals on the wall, a gorgeous large wooden table–wait a minute!

Stage 1: DENIAL

MB shut the door to our room and turned to me.

“Oh la la la la…”  He put his hand to his head.

“What?!”  Everything had seemed alright to me.

“That table, you saw the table?”

“Yeah, so wha—oh crap.”

“Yeah.”

“You think?”  I asked, my voice ridden with panic.  “Surely not, no way, this place is so nice, that would be totally weird.” 

Stage 2: GUILT

A half hour later we descended with our plan to find out whether the dinner would be at the table or if there was another dining room.  After ordering a couple of glasses of wine from the hostess (which she seemed unaccustomed to…we were still in France, right?), MB casually asked if this was where we came for dinner. 

“Ah oui,” she trilled.  “At seven o’clock!”  

Our fate was sealed.

We returned upstairs, despondent in our grief. 

“This isn’t going to be relaxing at all!”  I cried.

“I know, this is terrible.  I am not in the mood for this, I don’t want to talk to strangers.”

“I can’t talk to strangers, oh my god, this is going to be horrible!”

“I never should have booked this place.  I’m so sorry.”

“It’s not your fault, how are you supposed to know that it was going to be like this?  It is my fault; I’m the one who wanted to get out of town.”

“We will just have to get through this together.”  MB holds me tightly.

Stage 3: BARGAINING

 “Maybe, maybe we can go down early and eat before everyone else?”  MB looks at me hopefully.

“You think?  What if we just have to sit at the table and wait…then it will just prolong it!”

“It is worth a try, yes?”

Suddenly, we hear the door down the hall open.

“NON!”  MB looks stricken.  “They have already left!”

“This sucks!  Why do we have to do this?  It is total bullsh-t!  I mean, don’t people come to these places to relax?  What is relaxing about this?”  I am becoming progressively defiant.

“I know, it is ridiculous, who are the people who want to do this?”

Stage 4: DEPRESSION

Finally, we arrive at the table downstairs.  It is set for the exact number of guests and has us all squeezed in, elbow to elbow.  The older couple down the hall from us is already seated. 

“Bonjour.”

“Bonjour.”

“Bonjour.”

“Bonjour.”

Sigh.

We take our seats and look at each other across the table, MB is silently questioning me and I am questioning right back.  The hostess is nowhere to be found.

In French

“So, where are you from?”  MB asks the couple.

“Lyon,” responds the man.

“Ah.”  MB waits to see if there will be more.  “We are in from Grenoble.”

“Ah,” says the man. 

“So, what do you do?”  MB looks at the couple.

The woman responds first.  “I am a teacher.”

MB waits.  Nothing.

“What grade is it that you teach?”

“9-12”

“And you like it?”

“Yes.”

The couple looks at MB expectantly; he has now become proprietor of the conversation.  He looks at me desperately.  “I can’t help you,” I say with my eyes, “We are trapped, there is no way out.”

Stage 5: UPWARD TURN

Finally the hostess appears with a much appreciated bottle of wine, which we are put in the awkward position of splitting with our new found acquaintances.  Another woman descends from upstairs with her dog and sits at the far end of the table, as far away from everyone as possible, I stare at her enviously.  Then, suddenly, the doors open and a frosty chill enters the room…darkness falls upon the table as couple #2 sits down.

The woman, almost immediately, bursts into caustic laughter before proceeding on a tirade complaining about everything from the wine selection, to the food, to the fact that we all had to sit together.  She then goes on to spend the rest of the dinner making sour faces and alienating the entire table while her companion makes half-hearted attempts at salvaging the situation. 

All of a sudden, the first couple seems like long lost friends as we find ourselves all making eye contact across the table, communicating our disbelief at her behaviour (which seemed to only exacerbate it further).  We are now comrades, struggling through the war together.

Stage 6: RECONSTRUCTION

Finally…finally, the dessert course is brought out.  I look at MB longingly; I can already tell that I am stuck in one of those French “no one knows how to leave the table” situations.  “Get up,” I think.  “Get up, for the love of GOD, don’t ask another—“  Too late, MB was already off asking couple #1 another question that is answered with two words. 

Then it hits me, EUREKA!  Cigarette!

I look at MB and nod toward the outside patio.  I see the comprehension on his face.

“Ah, excuse us, we will go and have a cigarette now.”

We both get up from the table and walk to the adjoining patio. 

“Oh my god,” I breath.  “That was horrible.”

“After this, we just say goodnight, don’t sit back down.  We’re going to make a run for it.”  MB looks at me seriously. 

“Got it.”

As soon as MB stubs out his cigarette, we are back inside picking up our coats and heading upstairs, while desperate eyes follow us out.  The hostess has now joined the table and has them all trapped in forced merriment. 

Stage 7: ACCEPTANCE

“Pfff…I am so happy that is over.”  MB flops on the bed.

“Me too,” I turn to look at him.  “But, how are we going to do it again in the morning?”

“I think tomorrow we skip breakfast.”