Alright, so we already know my favorite USA Christmas things…now for France!
7) Animatronics. Yeah, that’s right…animatronics, love ‘em. A merry band of robotic, glassy-eyed zombie bears playing Christmas Carols = awesome! (maybe I’ve been watching too much Walking Dead) This is something that I discovered last year during the Christmas season in France and that I found very random/charming. I mean, don’t get me wrong – it’s not like I’ve never seen animatronics at home but I feel like there are more of them here in France during the holidays…which totally confuses me. When I think of the French I think of them being uber-cool; I do not think of them as being animatronics people (then again, Euro Disney has managed to survive) so it was quite a surprise when I started to notice Christmas animatronics all over town…at the marchés, at the magasins, at the malls, even at Carrefour. Who would have ever suspected that the French would embrace something so…well, geeky? Jerry Lewis probably would have guessed it.
6) The Chocolate Aisle ON STEROIDS. In a previous post I wrote about the chocolate aisle at the grocery stores in France and all its glory (https://breadispain.wordpress.com/2012/08/08/chocolate-frogs-and-salty-dogs/). Well, imagine that aisle winning the Tour de France 7 times on ‘roids and you would have the Christmas chocolate aisle. (woah…did she just make an inappropriate joke about Lance Armstrong? NOT cool) Actually, once the holiday season arrives it isn’t even an aisle anymore but an entireSECTION of the grocery store, a section filled with mountainous towers of Lindt Truffles, Kinder Surprise, and Lanvin l’escargot (why shouldn’t chocolates be shaped like snails, don’t judge). What’s even more nefarious awesome is that these sections are usually right at the entrance of the store…that’s right, the same masterminds at Carrefour (cue thunderclap and eerie music) who will only have three registers open on a Saturday afternoon have managed to figure out that forcing you through this chocolate mini-nation will effectively force you to buy some. There is no defense against it…and I embrace that; if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!
5) CRAZY Christmas Lights (part II). Okay, so we have established that in the U.S. people go a little over the top decorating their houses…in France it is not like that, in France they keep their decorum at home and instead go over the top decorating their towns. All over the city centres there are lights running up and down the streets, maybe hanging over the streets, dangling down the sides of buildings, and hanging from every light pole. And it isn’t just the main streets; you can find light displays on the smaller side streets as well. You will never walk down an un-festive street and it really makes going into town more fun…especially when that special Grenoble “icnoain” (that would be ice/snow/rain) is pissing down out of the sky (no bitterness). The only thing that could make this more fun and awesome would be if they would take the decorations down during the rest of the year instead of leaving them up which violently murders Christmas spirit…evil.*
4) Spreadable meat. Now, I realize that spreadable meat in France is not just attached to the Christmas season but I’m using it as one of my favorite things anyway because much like the grocery store chocolate it is just MORE at the Christmas season. For instance, MB and I might normally have a can or two of pate lying around for a party or some such occasion but just last week we bought over 40euros worth of pates and foie gras creations (because you can stuff everything with foie gras and shove it in a can…including magret canard which we discovered is amazing) from a vendor at the neighborhood market because…well, it was there. Do you remember what happens if you get the Gremlins wet (if not, rent the Christmas classic Gremlins and enjoy 80s ridiculousness at its finest)? Well, that is pretty much what happens to pate in France during the holidays. Normally, there might be one stand at your neighborhood market and a shelf or two at the grocery store; but during Christmas time, it multiplies. Suddenly, it’s like you can’t get away from spreadable meat options – they are everywhere, taunting you with their fatty goodness, duck, goose, wild boar, rabbit, all of them mixed together. Whatever kind of spreadable meat situation you want, you can have in France during the holidays…just remember to take your Lipitor.
3) Vin Chaud. Wine is already tremendous. It is fruity, it is alcoholic, it comes in a wide variety of flavors, and (saints be praised) it is even good for you…in moderate amounts blah blah blah…fine print…blah blah. So how could wine possibly become any more comforting and awesome? Not possible, right? WRONG – heat that b-tch up and make it spicy. In England they call it mulled wine, in France it is vin chaud (hot wine…which sounds funny so I like to say it) and is basically red wine with a variety of spices in it, heated up. Again, it’s one of those few things that makes winter worth struggling through and definitely one of my favs about being in France during the holidays.
2) Easy Presents. Okay, so this isn’t necessarily a French Christmas thing but it is a Christmas thing for me while living in France so I’m using it. Living in a country that produces some of the yummiest food products in the world makes Christmas shopping ridiculously easy. While other people back home are searching to find those perfect gifts for their loved ones, all I have to do is buy some cheese and spreadable meat and we’re all good. And the best part is that everyone always loves it, in fact I don’t think anyone in the history of the world has received a gift box of French food and not been happy. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Roman provincial governors were sending back parcels of Gallic goodies home.
Two Roman sentinels are stationed in Gallic territory and standing outside the praetorium shooting the breeze.
Gaius: So, what are you going to send Aurelia and the boys for Saturnalia?
Sextus: I don’t know, you know, the boys want some swords but clearly that is better bought in Rome.
They kick a passing Gaul and laugh to each other.
Sextus: I think Aurelia wants a new dress. I’ll probably just get a gift certificate.
Gaius: No way! It’s not personal – Helena tells me it’s tacky so I’ve never gotten her one.
Sextus: Well, alright tough guy, what are you sending?
Gaius: Gallic Gift Baskets.
Gaius: You know food from the region, specialties. I make my slave put it together – it’s awesome. Always a hit!
Gaius: Yeah, everyone loves Gallic food, come on. It’s better than having everything taste like garum!
I’m pretty sure that is exactly how it all went down. However, the point is that not only do I not have to fight holiday shopping crowds but I also have the assurance that the gift will be well-received. High-five, France!
1) Marche de Noel. In the U.S. we have Marchés de Noël…they are called malls. In France (and all of Europe really) most towns have these ridiculously adorable Marchés de Noël that do not involve Forever 21 or Taco Bells**; these marches, on the other hand, are like delightful little alpine villages that crop up in the middle of your city centres. The marchés have little pathways that weave around small stands with vendors selling a variety of games, toys, etc (most of it is crap but you know…still cute), there might be some musicians (they may or may not be animatronic) and people selling Christmas carols, there will definitely be a large variety of artery-clogging, delicious food (did anyone say foie gras sandwich?), and there will undoubtedly be plenty of vin chaud. Basically the Marché de Noël manages to combine almost everything I love about Christmas-time in Europe. It is Christmas spirit and liveliness, cheerful people and music…and an unhealthy dose of booze and high-fat foods.
*I could go on about this subject for a very long time as it is something that has irritated me the entire time I have lived in France. WHY oh WHY can they not take down the decorations in the off-season? I mean, won’t that give people jobs…not to mention make it possible for me to see them without screeching in annoyed outrage?
**This is not a diss to Taco Bell. I love Taco Bell with every fiber of my being, yes, I know what is in it and no, I don’t care whatsoever. I would eat 5 burrito supremes right now if I could.