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!