Holiday Season Part II: Spreadable Meat and Hot Wine

Cultural Differences, French Food, Holidays in France, Uncategorized

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.

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Holiday Season Part I: A Few of My Favorite Things

Cultural Differences, Holidays in France

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.