You’ve Got Some Gauls!

“Uh-oh, I really hope she doesn’t poo, I don’t have any little bags with me.”

I am walking in the park with a couple of expat friends, one of whom has his dog with him.

“I might have a bag,” my other friend says, digging through her purse.

“Wow,” I say. “So do y’all always pick up your dog’s poo?”

“Yeah,” says friend number one.  “I get a lot of weird looks from people when I do it, like ‘what on earth are you doing?’”

I laugh at this, thinking of the obstacle course of poo on the sidewalks throughout town (our nice little Espace Chiens aren’t in Centre Ville).

“Well,” friend number two chimes in. “My husband and I will stop and give people dirty looks when we see their dog go, you know, to see if they will pick it up.”

“Really?” I ask.  “Have you ever been able to shame anyone into doing it?”

Friend number one looks at me as though I have missed something really obvious.  “The French have no shame.”

This is a beautiful, hilarious, and sometimes annoying truth – there is no shame in the French game. They are an unflappable people when faced with societal judgment.  For instance, Americans are working to eradicate cigarette smoking through a vigorous shame-campaign:

What?  You want a cigarette?  We will need you to publicly whip yourself 3 times with this cat-o-nine-tails and then step into that designated smoking area – you see it, the space with the septic sewage oozing out from the ground.”

As you light your cigarette the town’s children surround you throwing rotten vegetables and pointing while yelling “Smoker! Smoker!”

Or something like that…perhaps that is a bit dramatic.  My point is that we are trying really hard to change the branding of smoking from being something cool and/or normal to something gross and trashy because the thought is that if society decides it is nasty then that will dissuade younger generations from smoking (aka: through shame).

This is why I am constantly amused/surprised by the references to cigarettes throughout my French courses.  In one of my grammar textbooks there is a chapter of exercises (a chapter is about 3 pages) which includes 4 different sentences on the subject of cigarettes, I’ve even had teachers use smoking as examples for sentence structure in class.  These are things that would be incomprehensible in the United States.  Smoking in a textbook?!  Tsk, tsk!

The French just take a different view on the matter – and no, it is not the view that nothing is wrong with smoking, but perhaps rather the idea that public shaming just isn’t going to be the most effective method in France.  In fact, it could even encourage the behavior it is trying to prevent:

“Pffff…you say smoking is disgusting and I should be ashamed, uh?  Challenge accepted, you bureaucratic oaf – I will now smoke on your baby and then casually dump my ashtray in the front seat of your car…and it will be dead sexy, uh?”

This is a society that doesn’t accept embarrassment and therefore can’t be controlled through threat of humiliation.  Line-skipping is another good example.  The French aren’t exactly keen on one-by-one straight queues for things but rather mass disorder and a collective gathering at point of payment or entry – it’s a dog eat dog kind of situation and one in which it is very easy to be skipped.  It is no rarity to have someone brazenly step in front of you while waiting on a line (especially little old ladies).  In the United States if this happened you might be able to make someone self-conscious enough to apologize or move by giving them dirty looks or talking loudly about their rudeness…not so in France.  In France it is more like this:

This is you:  “I can’t BELIEVE that chick just stepped right in front of me.  Give her laser eyes, make her feel super uncomfortable.  DEATH STARE – DEATH STARE!  HA – TAKE THAT!  This is going to be the most awkward wait of your life you LINE-SKIPPER!”

French Response #1:  “I think there is something wrong with the person behind me.  They look crazy – I am glad I got in front so that I will be out of here first.”

French Response #2:  “There is someone behind me?”

French Response #3:  *yawn*

The French just don’t have a desperate need for approval (like Americwhat?  Nothing, I didn’t say a thing).  They are content to dictate their own personal behaviors and no amount of societal humiliation is going to make them pick up their dog poo or queue in an orderly fashion if they don’t want to.  It just isn’t the French way and I suspect it probably never has been.

Let’s journey back to Gaius and Sextus, our Ancient Roman Sentinels stationed in formerly Gallic territory to better exemplify the point.

Gaius:  This place is driving me crazy!

Sextus:  Oh come on, at least it isn’t as crowded as Rome.

Gaius:  But that’s just it, Sextus, in Rome at least there is some order but these Gauls are killing me.  None of them ever line up straight, just the other day when I was off to get some bread, right as the baker opened his door they all just crowded up towards it.  You couldn’t tell who was first and who was last.  I told two of them that if they didn’t get out of my way I would have them beat and you know what they did?

Sextus:  Uh…got the heck out of your way?

Gaius looks at Sextus and shakes his head mournfully.

Gaius:  No, they didn’t.  They just acted like they couldn’t hear me.

Sextus:  Woah.  Bold move.

Gaius:  Right?!  I mean, don’t they realize that they have been enslaved, humiliated?  Where is their shame?

At this moment a Gaul approaches the two of them, heading towards the door to the Praetorium.

Sextus:  And just where do you think you’re going?

Gaul:  To the Praetorium…obviously.

Sextus:  HEY –

Sextus smacks the Gaul on the behind with the broad side of his sword.

Sextus:  Don’t get mouthy with me!

Gaius:  Yeah – you have to show us respect!  It is the law!

The Gaul gives them a pointed look.

Gaius:  Kneel, you Gallic trash!

Gaul:  Pfff…

Gaius and Sextus exchange a look with each other and Gaius whispers in Sextus’ ear.

Gauis:  This is exactly what I was talking about.

Sextus walks towards the Gaul and stands over him menacingly.

Sextus:  Look here, if you don’t kneel now you will be shunned from any and all decent society!  You will be mocked and people will turn their back on you in the street!

At this point our Gaul just shrugs and walks on through the gates.

The world would never be the same.

Cultured Insolence

“Wit is Cultured Insolence” – Aristotle

So last night while watching “The Walking Dead” there was a moment when our heroes drive by a frantic and lone hiker on the highway without picking him up.  It is heart-wrenching as the hiker runs after them screaming in stark desperation and eventually falls on his face as they silently drive on unwilling to stop and help.  Even now, just thinking about this scene makes me want to start crying.  Now, of course, I realize that this is a fictional television show about a zombie apocalypse (yes, even writing that out makes me roll my eyes at myself) but I’m telling you – it was a compelling moment, a moment that made my core of humanity shiver at the possibility of ever being so completely turned off.  Even in such a wildly fictional world it was painful to watch a cold and cruel moment.

MB, however, smirked.

“Oh my god,” I shriek.  “That is so depressing, what is wrong with you?  How can you find that funny?!

He’s laughing a bit when he turns to me, “mais non, I don’t think it’s funny, it is horrible.  I mean, it’s crazy!”

“Then why are you laughing?”

“Because it is not funny otherwise.”

“huh?”

He shrugs; this makes perfect sense to a Frenchman.

The French have a little bit of a “mean girl” sense of humor.  It is something I noticed when I first started dating MB and he showed me some classic French films.  I watched in horror while he and his friend (also French) held their stomachs laughing during “Dîner de Cons”, a film about a group of people who have a dinner party in which they are each required to bring a moron for the rest of them to make fun of.  I sat there in shock, confused as to how anyone could find such a cruel premise funny; and even though our leading “mean boy” finally receives his comeuppance I couldn’t reconcile the meanness of the jokes with the slap on the wrist at the end.  It is a type of humor that just doesn’t work for this happy-ending-loving American; where were my birds and squirrels sewing ball gowns, where were my “Bad News Bears?”  Probably being kicked in the head by “La Chevre” (another “make fun of well-meaning morons” French film) before being sent to 18th Century Versailles pour le “Ridicule” (this French film leaves out the moron for the more heavy hitting insults).

And it isn’t just in the films that this humor exists but in day to day life as well.  This week in my French class our teacher reviewed the vocabulary for qualities and faults.  In order to work on class participation, she opened a group discussion in which we all listed a few qualities about ourselves.  After I listed my qualities she turned to the class and said, “okay, now, what do you think that her faults are?  Who would like to take a guess at some of her faults?”

(Crickets)

I looked at the other foreign students in the class who all sat silently, looking at each other questioningly as if to say, “oh my god, do we actually say something?!”  I started laughing.  It was so absurd; none of us are from a culture where we could conceive of listing out a stranger’s supposed faults publicly and to their face (that last bit is put in for those of us who have no problem listing faults behind someone’s back…what?  I wrote “us?”  Well, I don’t mean me, obviously!).  The teacher shrugged and continued the lesson without forcing us to affront our new classmates…but I suspect she would have liked us all a lot more if we had made a go of it. 

This is not to say that the French are mean; they aren’t…but they do enjoy a well-played witticism (read: not-too-mean-insult).  Now that being said, they may dish it out but they can take it as well.  I have often sat bemused at dinner parties watching the hardcore “ribbing” that goes on at the table; they all think it is hilarious and are just as quick to laugh at themselves as at someone else.  It is like a formal fencing match – you don’t throw a fit when you opponent makes a hit but instead you respect and congratulate them.  It is a delight in wickedness rather than mean-spiritedness.

Here is a perfect example from the film “Ridicule” – I like to call this “aggressive word play”.

So prepare your thick skin before entering the French sphere and make sure that you have a sense of humor about yourself, for as they say in the film “Ridicule”, “wit opens any door” and you wouldn’t want to end up in a French zombie apocalypse with nothing clever to say.

Anxiety on the Death Star

The airport these days can be a scary and intense place…almost anxiety-attack-inducing.

Is all metal off my body?  There is an underwire in my bra…I really hope they don’t try to take my bra, I mean, that’s just going to be uncomfortable.  Would I have to go back to my gate and check-in my bra?  Can an underwire be used as a weapon?  I doubt it but then they have also confiscated my nail scissors before…

Are all my liquids in the regulation size plastic bag?  What about my eye cream?  Is eye cream a liquid or a solid…what…oh my god, I have no idea.  Is eye cream a liquid or a solid, people?!  LIQUID OR SOLID?

Which line am I going to be in?  Is that the normal one or the scan your naked body one?  Wait, no, don’t wave me over there, I don’t want the naked body scan, it’s so awkward.  I act like I’m cool with it to the TSA people but guess what?  I’m NOT – it creeps me out.  Sh*t – I’m definitely in the naked line.

Alright, smiling at everyone, trying to hurry to get all my stuff in those bins as quickly as possible…don’t want to be that guy.  Wait, what?  I can’t put my coat in the same bin as my laptop…uh…okay TSA…I didn’t know that coats were impenetrable by X-ray machines.  Unzipping my boots, trying to not have my butt hang out the back of my pants while I bend over to do this, geez, there really is no graceful way to pull this off.  Okay – ready to go…oh my god…this is the worst…there is a hole in my sock.  I can’t BELIEVE I didn’t check my socks…I mean; this is the one time in your life when your socks get a lot of play-time, come on!

These are the thoughts that are generally running through my mind as I hurry to wipe away the water that has dribbled all over my face while I was chugging my water bottle that I forgot was in my purse. Thoughts that are the result of years of U.S.A. Homeland Security combined with years of New Zealand and Australia customs (see what happens if you try to enter New Zealand with a bit of mud on your boot…I dare ya)*.  So, on my recent trip to Munich you can imagine my nerve level trying to pack for JUST carry on.  I measured all my liquids and checked and re-checked the Lufthansa rules (while constantly considering how to properly pronounce “Lufthansa”).  The most difficult aspect was that I knew I wanted to bring my friends that I was visiting some treats from France.

“I don’t think I can take these carry-on,” I hold up the camembert and paté to MB that I had purchased to bring them.

“Quoi?”  He looks at me and blinks.  “Why not?”

“Well, on the website it says I can’t take food products more than 100ml.”  But for some reason I need a second opinion on that vague and ambiguous regulation.

“Ouaaaaais…but it’s not like it’s a bottle of wine, uh?  I’m sure it will be fine.”

“I don’t think the rules work that way,” I say to him.

He shrugs and I can almost hear his inner dialogue, “rules? Pffff….”

Now before I go any further perhaps I should explain that I am an obsessive rule follower…even jay-walking makes me itchy.  I would like to say that it is all because of my strict moral code but let’s face it – it is mostly my abhorrence to getting in trouble.  I HATE being called out for having done something wrong and I’m such a nervous rule-breaker that I ALWAYS get called out…always.  MB, on the other hand, is French.

The French seem to enjoy seeing what they can “get away with”.  I don’t even think that they are trying to “challenge” authority but rather that they all believe that authority doesn’t really apply to them (for further information read this previous post: https://breadispain.wordpress.com/2012/05/11/duck-a-lorange-in-an-ashtray/).  So, I decide to try it out and see what I can get away with – into the bag goes the camembert and paté.

As I stand in the waiting line I watch in horror as the security video plays the directions and restrictions for getting through security – there on the screen are, no joke, a jar of paté and a wheel of camembert with big X’s on them.  At this point, my palms start to sweat, maybe I shouldn’t have been so cavalier.  I’m not a rule-breaker; I’m a dork!

My nerves are on high alert as I go through security, knowing that there is something contraband in my bag.  I waltz through the X-ray and wander out to the other side to wait for my bag.  Everything seems to be fine until suddenly I see the uniformed woman walking towards me with her hand on my bag.  I hear this in my head:

(“The Imperial March” for those of you too lazy to click on the link…and if you don’t know what “The Imperial March” is, I can’t help you, you are lost forever).    I can just imagine myself walking over to her, “please Lord Airport Official!”  Then, I begin choking as she says, “you have failed me for the last time, Admiral.”  …Or something like that.

Anyway…off the Death Star and back in France she pulls me over and motions for me to unzip my bag.  As soon as I do she pulls out my zip lock bag of camembert and paté with an “AH HA” – Sherlock Holmes-y kind of move.  At this point, I realize I have a decision to make: I can come clean and just go on my way or I can try to be a cool French person and try to get away with it.  I decide to channel my inner-Frenchness.

I shrug at her and try not to smile (a French person wouldn’t).

“Ouais…” I say, before continuing in French.  “I wasn’t sure about these but, you know.”

She looks at me with narrowed-eyes and I’m not sure if a) she believes that I really didn’t know or b) respects the fact that I am bold-faced lying.  Either way, she continues.

“It is the size,” she says, “They have to be less than 100ml for the carry-on.  Do you want to go back and register them?”

I shrug.  “Pfff…non, they are just gifts.  It is a pity for my friends but not for me so, you know, who cares?” I laugh wickedly at this.

I see her apprise me once again, “the force is strong with this one.”  She then laughs at my joke** before leaning in conspiratorially.

“You know,” she says speaking in a low voice.  “If this was duck, no problem…it’s just the pork.  You will know for next time, uh?”

I smile at her and start to put my bag back together.  Ah well, so I wasn’t able to keep my contraband…MB probably would have managed it but that is okay; I am what I am…a rule-following nerd.  Breaking the rules is uncomfortable on me.  And who knows?  Maybe France is becoming more stringent about these things, I mean; it is the airport after all.  If there is anywhere that regulations are followed it is here, right?

I zip up my bag and turn to walk towards my gate but not before noticing the Airport Official with my bag of food.  I see her turn to put it in the “discard” bin and then stop suddenly.  An inner war seems to be waging in her mind.  She looks down at the bag containing my unopened jar of paté and full wheel of camembert and then she sets it next to the bin as opposed to inside of it.  I laugh to myself, we are still in France – all is not lost.  Contraband paté and fromage will be served on the Death Star tonight.

*For the record, Australia took not one but two packages of grits on two separate occasions away from me because they were suspect.  It’s ground corn…that is all!

** The French have a little bit of a “mean girl” complex.  They like mean humor and jokes – it amuses them.  I will perhaps write on this topic soon.  If you need further explanation rent: Le Dîner de Cons.  That is the French film that “Dinner for Schmucks” destroyed.

To Be or Not to…wait, what was that? I got bored.

I love television shows that have to do with food because I think that food is awesome and fascinating.  I enjoy watching people use their creativity to develop dishes and concepts; I enjoy seeing new techniques and ideas; however, I do not need it in 3-hour chunks at a time.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to pretend that I have never watched 3 episodes of say…Top Chef at a time, because I have.  I have even watched a 2-hour one episode special because they usually only do that when it is action packed with disasters and people being sent home; but I do not need to see 3-hour episodes on a regular basis.  Who has the attention span for that?

Apparently, the French do.

Their episodes of Masterchef and Top Chef are 3 hours long and not because there are crazy out- of-control-fights and not because someone catches the kitchen on fire and serves raw chicken resulting in an epic outbreak of salmonella which ends up involving a spin off reality show about the CDC but just because 3 hours for a TV show is apparently normal.  It’s like watching a staging of Hamlet in which the director decides not to cut one line (ahem…Kenneth Branagh); I mean let’s face it – Hamlet can figure out whether “to be or not to be” in less than 3 hours.  Right?

“The lady doth protest too much, methinks”

“Quoi?!”

“I’m bored!!!!!!!!!!!!!”  This is said with a wail as I fling myself across MB, obscuring his view to his computer screen.

“EH!  I’m trying to do something, huh?  I’m organizing the hard drive so that we can actually find things*.  Here I will explain it to you.”

I pretend like I am already asleep and snoring.

“You are ridiculous,” he says to me.

“Whaa-?  Oh, I’m sorry, I feel asleep because that explanation was SO uninteresting.”  I grin at him impishly…it’s super cute and not at all annoying…probably…maybe…ehhhhhhh…don’t know.

He leans me back against him so that we are both facing the computer and puts his arms around me.

“I don’t know if I have ever met a person with less patience than you in my entire life,” he says before giving me two quick pats on my leg meaning “get up” (which by the way, always cracks me up because it is like I am a dog…wait, should I be offended?)

This little scene is a normal everyday occurrence in our household.   I need to be entertained, I need to be moving around, I need to be doing something fun all the time; even when I clean the house I listen to books on tape with my IPod .  NO TASK SHALL EVER BE BORING!

I can’t watch a 3-hour finale of Masterchef in which only 2 people cook…especially 2 people who are super polite to each other.  Give me some drama, some action, keep me enthralled!

“Though this be madness, yet there is method in ‘t.”

So where does this desire for constant entertainment come from?  Why do I have an inability to sit at a dinner table for more than 2 hours without getting itchy or watch a 3-hour episode of a show that I enjoy because there isn’t enough “action”?  Is this an American trait or is this a “me” trait?

I tend to think that Americans, in general, are action people/busybees/whatever you want to call it.  We don’t like to remain still…we take our coffee to go, we eat our lunches while walking back to the office, we tend to stand at bars instead of sitting at tables to converse.  And sure, we all know that Americans watch tons of TV but each episode better be no more than an hour and action-packed in order to keep our attention spans.

Europeans, on the other hand, are still slow to embrace the take-away coffee trend and McDonalds and other fast food restaurants are always packed with people because the drive-thru isn’t as popular as sitting in the restaurant to stop and enjoy your meal (as much as on can enjoy fast food…yeah, that’s right, I said it, I’m judging).  A 3-hour dinner in Europe might even be considered short by some standards.

So which is the better method?  Is it preferable to relax and take time and soak things in…you know, smell roses, contemplate life.  Or is it better to have high energy and be constantly engaged, cutting the roses and putting them in an arrangement to be smelled and enjoyed at a more convenient time?  MB would probably like it if I could slow down and sit still some of the time (something that he considers relaxing and I consider stressful); I would occasionally like it if he had some more frenetic energy.  I don’t know whether this is a French and American thing or just our own personalities.  And I don’t know if one method of living is better than the other.

So I’ll leave it to the wiser mind of Shakespeare: “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”  A mature philosophy, the philosophy of a reasonable and patient person, a person who thinks things through, a person who is not distracted easily…wait a minute…you know, he also wrote: “Brevity is the soul of wit.”

Meh…what can I say, kids?

“This above all: to thine own self be true”

 

*My computer is a disorganized nightmare that MB is constantly trying to take in hand.  I think it is a deep secret fantasy of his to get my files organized.  Oooh la la!

*Special shout-out to my old friend Billy Shakes…thanks for letting me steal so many of your lines – your words ever delight my brain!*

Of Hospitals and Cheese Courses

Yes, I am being a slacker this week.  MB is having some health issues and afternoons at the hospital have proved to be uninspiring…except for the meals.

Now granted, I haven’t been in the hospital in the U.S. since the 80’s so my information isn’t at all up to date but what I remember of the food was pizza and jello (I was also 8 years old which might account for what stands out in my mind).  At the hospital here in Grenoble, however, MB’s meals are somewhat more sophisticated.  There is a potato soup, there is a tuna pasta, a freshly baked roll, fromage blanc.  These may show up all at the same time but this is basically a 3 course meal…in the hospital.  Yesterday he had saucisson…how is that a healthy choice?

Pfff…it is not healthy, it is good, you philistine; I am sick, not dead, eh?”   This is what I imagine France saying in this scenario.

Basically, what this means to me is that the French never surrender when it comes to food.

“You may take my life but you will never take my cheese course!”

It is a charming quality that I love.  I’ll never forget MB telling me how their school lunches consisted of three parts: a salad of some sort, a main dish, and then a bit of cheese.

“You had cheese courses in elementary school,” I asked him, incredulous.

“Mais oui,” he says as though it is the most normal thing in the world.  “What did you eat?”

Hmmmm…deep fried burritos?  Butter cookies that had so much butter that they would soak through the wax paper.

“We didn’t have cheese courses,” is the only response I can muster.

He looks at me baffled.

So, with these thoughts in mind I invite you, fair reader, to give me your favorite food moment involving France (I say involving because I don’t think you need to be IN France to have had a French food moment).  Whether it be your first French cheese or trying calf brains or just your first time at a French restaurant – let’s take the day to think about France’s most charming quality…their love of food.

*If you would like updates on when I am going to post each week please join my facebook page – I usually post a few little notes throughout the week!  🙂

Bringing up Chien

The French LOVE dogs (literal dogs not all my figurative dog-talk).  Dogs can go on the train, on the tram, in a restaurant…just about anywhere that doesn’t have a sign indicating

No dogs allowed!

No dogs allowed!

otherwise.  A dog being out and about in public is so prevalent that at my favorite restaurant they even have a “dog’s menu” underneath the children’s menu.

As a life-long dog lover I embrace this; I like realizing that there is a canine friend at the table next to me in a restaurant or having a large furry beast relaxing under my feet on the train, it’s charming and friendly.  In the U.S. we are dog-banners; I’ve seen a dog get kicked out a post office line before…I mean, the POST OFFICE for heaven’s sake…what is the dog going to do that could possibly be more unpleasant than what your postal worker will do?  (har har har – I slay me) 

Could this difference in policy actually be a difference in behavior?  While I have seen no evidence whatsoever to convince me that French children behave better than children of any other nationality (sorry, I’m sure I’ll get skewered for this since it is all the rage…but there it is…kids are kids the world over and I see just as many crying, screaming temper tantrums in public here as I have in any other country I have lived in) I WILL say that their dogs are appear to be more attune to social etiquette.

A friend was recently visiting from the U.S. and commented on the fact that the canines

Doggie public toilets

Doggie public toilets

about town seemed to be much better behaved.  They sit patiently if left outside a “magasin” without barking or putting up much of a fuss, while giving imploring looks they do not incessantly beg at restaurant tables, and they typically manage to “do their business” in the “espace chiens”* set up around town for this express purpose.

And so, the question is: Are these better behaved dogs or are they just French?  Let me explain by going into dog psyche for a moment.

A French dog is out and about in town with his owner.  This is the dog’s internal dialogue.

Pfff…look at that stoopeed bichon on a leash…so degrading.  I mean, you know, you should learn how to walk if you want to go out in public. 

“Hey Cotton Ball – yeah, you with the leash – it is not hard, you know, just walk with your human.  You are embarrassing us all!”

Well, it is hardly a wonder, huh?  The owner is wearing tennis shoes and MON DIEU picking up the poop off the sidewalk!  If my owner did this I would run away; I would rather live on ze street zen with a human who would disrespect themselves so.  It would be too shameful.  Picking up poop…it eez disgusting, non?  I don’t walk on leashes and I manage to get to a toilet when nature calls, huh?  I’m not a barbarian or an American…ha…Americans.

The owner stops in front of a bakery and leaves the dog waiting outside with another one.  Our narrator dog stops and looks around for a minute.

A la la la la…what is thees barking fool next to me? 

“You know, we are just waiting outside the “marche”; relax Kujo!”

More barking.

“Hey – Timmy hasn’t falled down a well, Lassie!  Have some dignity.”

Pfff…I would never behave in such a way.  I don’t need to bark all the time and act like I am having a heart attack of excitement each time my human returns.  …Rideeculous.  I have standards, you know?  I know how to comport myself in public.  I-

“OOOH!  My human, bonjour, bonjour, salut, salut, salut!!!!!!!!!!”

SCENE

Last week I was walking back home from the bakery with my baguette in hand.  As some bakeries prefer, the baguette wasn’t even fully enclosed in a wrapper but just had a wisp of paper for me to hold it around the middle.  As I was walking back to my house the baguette was down by my side…you know, about dog height…and a dog came walking by with his owner.  The dog didn’t so much as turn his nose in the direction of my baguette.

It made quite the impression on me that the dog didn’t even make an attempt; there was no tug of war with the owner pulling him back from trying to devour my baguette.  I thought to myself what a well-behaved canine he was but then again, the dog was French so maybe my baguette was just from the wrong bakery.

*The Espace Chiens are set up around the city and are little sandy or dirt pits (sort of like sandboxes) with some fencing around them for the dogs to do their business.  Yes, that is right, in France dogs have their own public toilets…gotta love it.  Furthermore, while these “espaces” are used regularly there is still a prodigious amount of poo on the sidewalks.  When you walk around France it is best to keep an eagle eye.

Holiday Season Part II: Spreadable Meat and Hot Wine

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.

Sextus:  Huh?

Gaius:  You know food from the region, specialties.  I make my slave put it together – it’s awesome.  Always a hit!

Sextus:  Really?

Gaius:  Yeah, everyone loves Gallic food, come on.  It’s better than having everything taste like garum!

SCENE.

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.