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.

Holiday Season Part I: A Few of My Favorite Things

I love Christmas…possibly to an annoying degree (definitely if you ask MB).  I love the music, I love the movies, I love the decorations, I love the food, I love the whole holiday spirit.  In fact, even winter (which I hate with every fiber of my being) becomes somewhat tolerable during the Christmas season because everything is just so darn cute!  So, with that in mind, this week kicks off Bread is Pain’s Christmas Season!

First off, I am going to share my favorite things about Christmas in USA.

7)  24 Hour Holiday Radio.  MUHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!  This is the bane of so many people’s existence during the holiday season.

Oh, I think I’ll just flip on the radio….BWAH, Christmas Carols on the pop station, negative, let me try again…Mariah Carey Christmas album?  She isn’t even the right genre for this station; this is the hard rock station.  Maybe Jazz will save me, let me just tune the dia-Bing Crosby?!  COME ON!”

While others desperately try to avoid holiday tunes; I actively search them out.  Midnight on Thanksgiving is a happy happy time for me and those like me because I know at that point there will be at least three, if not more, radio stations that will play Christmas Music 24 hours a day until Christmas.  At no point during this time period do I have to run an errand “festivity-free”; I will always have Nat, Elvis, and Dolly keeping me company and excited about Christmas.  AND as an added extra bonus, I am able to gleefully torture those around me who hate it and what is more Christmasy than that?

6)  Chriskwanzaka.  This just makes me laugh.  It is so purely American.  If you need more info: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Chriskwanzaka

5) CRAZY Christmas Lights.  When I was little, one of my favorite things to do during the holidays was to drive around and see all the over-the-top lights people had put up on their houses and now is no different, I still enjoy seeing all the insane displays that people have taken the time to put together.  (“God, it’s not insane, it’s just being really into the holiday spirit and making things pretty for people’s enjoyment, why is she so rude?”)  For instance, there is a house in my hometown that coordinates their outdoor Christmas lights to one of the radio stations (“I take back what I just said that is nutso”).  That’s right, their lights are timed to flick on and off in rhythm to the Christmas music being played on a particular AM station that I guess they highjack every year for this express purpose (Manheim Steamroller if you are curious and yes it is totally freaking awesome).  Each year traffic will be backed up around their house because people stop their cars out front to watch – this is going crazy over Christmas lights but it is also unbelievably fun.

4) Christmas Movies.  When I am in the U.S. during the holiday season there is no end to the amount of Christmas movies that I will watch.  I mean, I love the classics: Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life, A Charlie Brown Christmas*; but if I am going to be honest, I’m not that choosy.  I will watch a lifetime original Christmas movie:  She was in an abusive relationship, physically injured, mentally depressed, and emotionally cold…until one foggy Christmas Eve when Rudy became Santa’s only hope and everything changed.  I will also happily sit down and watch a Hallmark Channel Christmas movie:  Their daughter Tammy has leukemia, the bank is foreclosing, and the world’s most unrealistically nice and honest people, the Cratchit’,s are starting to lose hope.  Can a brand new angel trying to find his way in our wacky world save their Christmas Spirit?  Tune in Sunday and then subsequently every day this week to find out.  In the meantime watch this advertisement about a Mother tirelessly working during Christmas and thinking that her family hasn’t noticed only to find the nicest and most sentimental Christmas card in the history of the world left for her by her daughters…then cry for a while and call your Mom, you a-shole.

Point being, I’m not picky, I just want uplifting and possibly stupid Christmas stories all season long.

3) The Salvation Army Santas.  I love spontaneous charity.  If I happen to have a random opportunity to give to a good cause I do it which is one of the reasons that I love the Salvation Army during Christmas time.  There is not a grocery store or mall that you can go to during the holiday season where these hard working volunteers aren’t standing out in frigid temperatures ringing their bells.  This provides me with the opportunity to feel like an awesome and virtuous person every time I run out to buy wine and cigarettes  milk and cookies.  Now, as if feeling morally superior plus getting rid of all of that pesky pocket change (and actual bills if you need an extra dose of superiority…sometimes I do) isn’t enough of a treat our Salvation Army Peeps also don Santa hats and the more occasionally and therefore super exciting full Santa outfit…and let’s face it; it is always great to see Santa.  Which brings me to my next point…except when it’s not…

2) Mall Santas.  When I was growing up in the U.S. during the 80’s we heard a lot about “stranger danger”: “never go anywhere with a stranger, never tell a stranger your name, in fact, screw it, don’t even TALK to them, definitely don’t take candy from them, and if a stranger wants you to sit on their lap then you run**!” 

Enter Santa.

Is it any wonder that we all have photos of ourselves terrified, crying hysterically while possibly wetting our pants on random Santa’s laps?  I mean, while Nancy Reagan was on TV lecturing me about “pushers” and “just say no” at no point did she say, “Except at Christmas, taking candy from that random dude who wants you to sit in his lap it totally cool.”  And apparently, the 21st century is no different.  I would be lying (although a better person) if I said that I didn’t laugh a little bit every time my friends post a Facebook picture of their kid crying on Santa’s lap; I mean, it is crazy, why are we still doing this?  Are their kids that actually like it or is it just to entertain miscreants like me?  Either way, I’m a full supporter of mall Santas…I mean, what would a holiday be without a little creepy mixed in?

1) Egg Nogg.  Egg Nogg is awesome.  In fact, it is so awesome that during the Christmas of 1826, the cadets at West Point smuggled in booze so that they could make their Egg Nogg and subsequently started a riot**.  If you are unfamiliar with this potent and wildly unhealthy drink, let me briefly explain:  egg nogg is a drink consisting of rum or whiskey, heavy cream, a bunch of sugar, about one million egg yolks, and then some seasonings like cinnamon or cloves so that it tastes like Christmas.  It is delicious but is also dangerous for a variety of reasons:  A) It tastes like super good milk so you don’t realize how much booze you are drinking.  B) It has an insane amount of cholesterol, fat, and sugar so it may induce heart failure.  C) As evidenced, it has been known to cause riots.  But you know what?  It is so darn good, I don’t care.  I’ve always said there should be more cholesterol in alcohol.

So, there you have it, a few of the things that I miss about being back Stateside during the holidays.  Next week, I’ll give you a list of the things that I love about being in France for the holidays.

What are your favorite holiday things?

*Speaking of, did they change the Charlie Brown voices?  Someone told me they did and I am horrified.  It’s like when they tried to colorize Citizen Kane and Orson Welles said “Don’t touch my film with your crayolas!”  Don’t mess with Orson Welles and NEVER mess with Charles Schultz!

** I am not making this up:  http://www.army.mil/article/49823/The_Eggnog_Riot/  I am also not making this up: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/duel/peopleevents/pande22.html  Americans don’t take kindly to people messing with their booze.

Fall-N-France

I am walking through the neighborhood market when I spot France picking through a basket of Girolles (Chanterelles).

ME:  What up, France?

I put my hand up for a high five but all I get back is an eye roll.

FRANCE:  Bonjour, Américaine.  Why is your hand up?  You are going to hit me or what?

ME:  Like you don’t know what I am doing.

FRANCE:  Knowledge is not the same as compliance.  Bise like a normal person.

ME:  Didn’t you read my last post about that?

FRANCE:  Quoi?  Of course I don’t read your blog.

France looks indignant before leaning in to look very closely at a mushroom.

FRANCE:  …as though I would care what you write about me…

ME:  What?  I couldn’t hear you.

FRANCE:  Of course you couldn’t!  I wasn’t speaking four decibels too high; I am sure your Américain ear can only hear sounds that shatter glass.

I sigh and start to walk off.

FRANCE:  Quoi?  I thought we were having a conversation and now you just walk away without a word.  You know, I don’t know why you call me rude… vraiment!

ME:  Incorrigible.

FRANCE:  What was that?

ME:  Nothing.  So what are you getting?  Going to have something special for dinner tonight?

FRANCE:  I haven’t decided yet.  You will have a cheeseburger, non?

ME:  Yeah, I eat cheeseburgers all day every day.

I am being sarcastic.

FRANCE:  I know you do.

I give France a look but France just shrugs and lights a cigarette.

FRANCE:  This is the month of your “Thanksgiving”, yes?

ME:  Yep, in two weeks, I’m surprised you remembered that.

FRANCE:  Yes, well it’s hard to forget about a holiday based on you massacring a people and then celebrating it year after year by overeating and giving yourselves diabetes.  Sort of sticks in the mind.

I roll my eyes.

ME:  You know it is actually a really nice holiday.  You have all your family around, maybe your friends as well and you take some time to contemplate the things you are grateful for in your life.

France puts out the cigarette and continues walking towards the cheese vendor.

FRANCE:  Why do you need a holiday for this?  Can’t you just be grateful all year long?

I sigh again.

FRANCE:  Do you have a breathing problem?  Today you sigh very much.

ME:  Maybe it’s all the cigarettes.

I smile sweetly.  France smirks and gives me a look of approval.

ME:  But yeah, of course you should be grateful all year long – Thanksgiving is just a reminder to really think about it and talk about and share it with those that you love.

FRANCE:  Sounds exhausting, you Américains always needing to talk about your feelings.

ME:  So you don’t want to tell me anything you are grateful for?

FRANCE:  Pfff…I’m grateful to be French, quoi, so I don’t have to go through this stoopeed ritual every year!

ME:  MB is French and he is excited for Thanksgiving.

FRANCE:  Ah, you mean this man who lived in Australia for 6 years and is now married to an Américaine.  Oui, of course he is excited.

ME:  We’re going to have a big party you know…

I look at France with my eyebrows raised in a question mark.  France ignores me and looks into the cheese display.

ME:  If memory serves you had a pretty good time at the 4th of July party.

FRANCE:  WHAT?!  I did not!  It was average at best, huh!  A good time, who do you think I am?  Brazil?!

ME:  All I’m saying is that you stayed pretty late and seemed to get along well with everyone.

FRANCE: pffff…

ME:  So….?

FRANCE:  Quoi?  So?  What?  You are so tiring, why you must drag everything out?

ME:  Maybe I like to watch your squirm?

France suppresses a laugh.

FRANCE:  Sometimes you don’t make me want to gag, Américaine.

I smile and give France a pat on the back.  France quickly shrugs me off and looks at me with disdain.

FRANCE:  Everything is so difficult with this relationship.  I have no idea what cheese to bring that will go with turkey!

ME:  Oh, but won’t you be thankful to find out?!

France gives me the first real smile of the day.

 FRANCE: Peut-être, Américaine…peut-être.

 

Fourth of July: for Lafayette

Me:  Hey France!!!  France!!

I wave trying to get France’s attention.

France:  Ah, bonjour.  It is the Américaine.

Me:  Yes, it is the Américaine.  Why do you say that like you don’t know who I am?

France lights a cigarette and shrugs.

Me:  So, Happy Fourth of July!!

France:   Ah oui, your independence.  Why do I care about this?  This is not my holiday.  Take your Américain enthusiasm somewhere else, huh?  It fatigues me.

I put my arm around France’s shoulders and keep walking.  France looks at my arm as though it were a poisonous snake. 

France:  Why are you touching me?  I do not eenjoy thees.

Me:  Well get over it buddy, I’ve allowed about a million strangers to kiss my face over the past 16 months and that hasn’t made me comfortable either.

France:  Such brutes, you Américains.  To kiss someone’s face is polite, gentile not like this horrible hugging business.  Why do I want your fat body pressed up against me?  (France shivers)  Grotesque!

Me:  What?!  I’m not even fat.

France:  Yes, but you are Américain so you might as well be fat.  I can’t help it; I hear the accent and this is what I see.

Me:  You don’t want to know what I see when I hear your accent…

I say this menacingly. 

France:  Pfff…this is what you will never understand, little Miss America, I don’t care what you see when you hear my accent.

Me:  You’re impossible.  I don’t know why I keep trying to talk to you.

France:  Because I am fascinating.

Me:  Irritating as well.  I’m just trying to celebrate my Independence Day and you have to bring me down.  I mean, you know that the French helped us significantly during the American Revolution.  You supported us.

France gives me an eye roll.

France:  Ouais.  It was a long time ago, non?

Me:  Yes, but you know even in WWI, we honored Lafayette who helped during the American Revolution.  There was even a Lafayette Squadron.

France:  Typical Américain, so overly sentimental.  Wasn’t he declared a traitor later?  I seem to remember that.

Me:  UGH!  YOU exhaust ME!

I start to walk off.

France:  Très typique!

France says this loudly to stop me.

France:   I am finally interested and you walk away.

This time I roll my eyes.

France:  So, what are you going to do for this holiday?  Talk too loudly and wear tennis shoes everywhere?

France casually lights a cigarette and sniggers.

Me:  Haven’t decided yet, what are you going to do for Bastille Day?  Feign boredom and wear scarfs in summer?

There is a momentary stand-off and then France nods.

France:  Bien joué.  You are learning.

Me:  I think we will probably have a party for the fourth.  You know, lots of food and decorations, patriotic music; I’ll probably wear red, white, and blue.

France:  Ouais, sounds like you, everything has to be over-the-top and too much.  Why do you need to decorate your houses all the time?  I don’t understand this.

Me:  Oh please, like you aren’t going to be running around screaming the Marseillaise and waving the Tricolore next week!

France:  I most certainly will not!

France is indignant.

Me:  Do I need to bring up photos from last year?

France turns bright red.

France:  What?  No!  I don’t know what you are talking about…I am France, I don’t act like that.  You are the reedeeculous ones.

I give France a smirk.

France:  Fine.  Maybe we decorate a little, certainly not like you tacky Americans.

Me:  Certainly.

France lights another cigarette.

France:  So, I am invited to this fête?

Me:  I didn’t think you would want to come.

France:  I didn’t say I wanted to come!  Mon dieu!  Everything must be a challenge with you always.  Pfff…

France looks everywhere but at me. 

Me:  Oh France, you know you are invited.

France:  Well, I should think so.

Me:  Wait, why?

France:  Pff…always the same.  You know we did help you to win, without us there would be no Etats-Unis, huh?

Me:  But I already sai–

France interrupts me. 

France:  So yes, I will be there, I will bring some good cheese, something French that will actually taste nice, you know, for Lafayette and all that.

The Romance of a Sale

I love sales.  Love them.  I will buy things that I don’t really find attractive or things that I absolutely do not need based solely on the fact that they are on sale.  As a dear friend of mine puts it “really, by not buying it you are losing money because it is such a good deal!”  (RIGHT?!)   This statement pretty much sums up my feelings when I see something marked down.  “Why look!  It’s a goose leash!  We don’t have a goose, I know, but one day we might and come on, honey, it’s 70% off!” 

This is why the time just after Christmas is particularly dangerous for me.  In fact, if Santa really had my best interest at heart, he would drop off the gifts and steal my credit card on his way up the chimney.  But alas, year after year, I buy ill-fitting sweaters and boots that I’ll only wear once because of ridiculous post-holiday prices.  I am used to it by now; I know it is coming and I prepare as best I can.  For instance, this year, I bought things that I genuinely think that I will wear…mostly.

I was in no way, however, prepared for returning to France and what their post-holiday sales had in store.

“Woah!  What is happening?”  I am looking around the Carrefour (France’s superstore, complete with grocery and everything else you could ever want).

Quoi?”  MB seems nonplussed as he pushes the cart, fascinated, instead by reading the previous owner’s grocery list.  “Look, I think they were going to make a punch of some sort, it sounds good, no?”

He shows me the list but I am too distracted.

“Honey, look, all the groceries, everything…it’s like the whole store is on sale!”  I wave my hand across the entire front section of the Carrefour which is covered with yellow signs that have 25%, 35%, 50% printed on them.

“Ah ouais!  The after Christmas sales, I forgot this!!”  MB seems excited too.  “Look, a vacuum on sale, we need a vacuum!”

“Only twenty-five euros?  Heck yeah, we need a vacuum!  Oooh honey, they have a hand-mixer for ten euros too.  I need a hand-mixer sometimes you know!”

MB looks at me with skeptical amusement.  “When?  When do you need a hand-mixer?”

“Um…hullo!  Don’t you remember the time we tried to beat egg whites…that was a disaster!”  This happened exactly one time and we have never needed a hand-mixer for anything else.

MB puts the hand-mixer in the cart.

I grab MB’s arm and jump up and down.  “This is so great, I love a sale!  You know I love a sale!  Woah – is that buy one, get one free?!?

I run to the smoked salmon display.

“What do you reckon?  You think we can eat two kilos of salmon?”  I am now playing a little game, pretending that I might not want to buy it.  I look at MB, waiting for the reasonable response, preparing my angle.

“I think we can,” he says resolutely.   “We can always freeze it, yes?  It is fourteen euros a kilo; we aren’t going to beat that.”

I stare at MB and realize, he is not going to be my steady voice of reason but instead my accomplice, my kindred spirit in sale-induced-insanity.   We lock eyes and share a look of mutual understanding and admiration that says “yes, we can eat two kilos of salmon in ten days for that price!”

Suddenly, my eyes are drawn towards the back of the section.

“Could that be…no, surely not…”

MB follows my gaze.  “Ouais…” he says slowly, with cautious optimism.

We advance towards the sign, clutching onto each other’s arms.

50% Reduction Foie Gras

There is front of us are two huge bins filled with all shapes and sizes of foie gras, reduced 50% in price.  I jump up and down, clapping my hands and MB and I embrace, in front of the foie gras bin, under fluorescent lights in Carrefour.  It is trés romantique!

A vacuum, a hand-mixer, two kilos of smoked salmon, two cans of gesiers, one side of beef, a whole chicken, a rabbit, and four packages of foie gras later we begin to make our way out of the grocery store, satisfied and triumphant in the knowledge of all the excellent bargains we got.

Once we arrive home, I start desperately trying to make room in the freezer and ponder the necessity of purchasing an entire rabbit seeing as how I have never cooked one before.  Squeezing the three foot long package of smoked salmon into a corner, I wonder if maybe the salmon and the rabbit are the equivalent of an ill-fitting sweater or an ugly pair of designer boots.  Has buyer’s remorse set in already?  Will we ever actually use this stuff?  Has this all been just a big waste?  Nah…

“Honey, I think we have to have a dinner party!”

MB looks up from where he is arranging cans of foie gras and gesiers in the cupboard, “I was just thinking the same thing.”

 

Joyeux Noel

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!

The 7 Stages of an Awkward Dinner

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.”