Tag Archives: Holiday

Frenchie and the May Lilies

1 May

May 1 will always be a Holiday to me even though it’s not celebrated in the U.S.

And what comes to mind are my all-time favorite Holiday-related questions, which are without a doubt: “Do you have Labor Day in France?” and “Do you have 4th of July in France?”

When faced with the challenge of answering these questions, one can only hope for a glimmer of wit to magically appear from somewhere – hopefully somewhere not too far! Depending on who is asking these types of questions, the answers will obviously need to be customized and will vary greatly going from a degree of sweet yet informative explanation – aka Foreign Cultural Experiences 101 – to a degree of scathing remark – aka Sarcasm-Advanced Level.

It’d look something like this:

“Actually, Labor Day in France is celebrated on May 1 and not on the first Monday in September. May 1 only became the official day to celebrate Labor Day because of an American event – how about that?!?! – called the Haymarket Affair which started on May 1, 1886 when workers demonstrated and fought for an 8-hour work day. In 1889, the French decided that May 1 would be the day to demonstrate and protest for reducing work days to 8 hours. And in 1947-1948, May 1 was officially known as Fête du travail (Work Holiday), understand Labor Day.”

Nice and sweet.

But then, this happens:

“Do you have 4th of July in France?”

I’ve heard this one at least 50 times! What this truly means is “Do you celebrate 4th of July in France like we do here?” The best possible answer about whether “we have July 4th in France” can only and truly be: “No, in France, the calendar strangely skips July 4th, we don’t have that day. We go from July 3 directly to July 5.” [smirk]

So with May 1st also comes another sensory celebratory landmark: le muguet - lily of the valley.

Labor Day is not only fun because it’s a day off; offering and giving out lilies of the valley to friends and family is part of the French tradition. They are a symbol of Spring and are thought to be a lucky charm since King Charles IX of France supposedly gave the ladies of the Court a sprig of lily of the valley on May 1, 1561 to bring them good luck throughout the year and celebrate the joys of Spring.

Every year shortly before May 1, the May lilies pop out of nowhere in all flower shops and supermarkets. Even on street corners, it is not unusual to see independent street-hawker-florists trying to make some money by selling sprigs and planted pots of lilies. And seriously, isn’t there anything better than to get up early on a beautiful May Day morning in Paris, walk down the streets before anyone is out and about when the sun is still light and soft, breathe the air, hear the quietness around and spot the lilies at each street corner shinning in the sun with their tiny blinding white bells?

Special guest photographer: Roger Noiseau for the photo of the lily of the valley (above)

As the French saying goes: “in May, do as you please”.

So wear your lilies proudly and however you feel like.

Look, this young lady placed sprigs of lilies on her bike’s handlebars! I wonder if she is going to meet some friends for a picnic by the Seine. And this guy here is wearing a sprig as a boutonnière on his coat. He must be going to a Labor Day lunch with family.

As Parisians walk by with sprigs in their hands, the crisp, light and distinctive sweet smell of the lilies fill the streets of Paris wherever you walk. It’s a once-a-year treat allowing everyone to bask in their floating aroma and enjoy some well-deserved time out from the world.

Frenchie and the Easter Brunch

24 Apr IMG_6319

There is this thing in the U.S. called brunch. You might have heard about it! A twilight zone between breakfast and lunch taking you straight from 8 a.m. to noon on an express train via a Champagne glass. Unfortunately for them, the French aren’t much into the brunch fad and it’s hard enough to find a place open for breakfast on a week day at 8 a.m. in Paris, you might as well just give up and eat your sugar brioche at home. It’s true! The French just don’t go and eat outside for breakfast or brunch. Actually, let me rephrase that: the French have tried to bring the concept of brunch in the country and for the past 5 years now restaurants advertise brunch menus on weekends – but let’s just face it, it’s slowly picking up in Paris only and it can’t compare to a good, fun, loud and opulent American brunch.

Here’s what I love about brunch and especially about Easter brunch. The casualness of brunch is easy and relaxing. It can be as simple as elegant and sophisticated as you want. It can be hosted at home or outside with family or friends. And it is by far the best opportunity to drink before 2:00 p.m. without judgement. There is this little something about brunch that I can’t quite explain. A fun day when everyone is just happy it’s Sunday – no worries nor troubles. A time when you can just kick back and appreciate what you’ve been working towards all week-long. And let’s be frank, Americans have this tremendous and fantastic ability to give up and/or surrender – you choose! – all moderation when it comes to food and drinks. There is enough to eat for 35 and trust me, it’s just that good to sip Champagne amongst friends mid-day for as long as you pleasurely want. As any Parisians would testify – or only testify under torture for fear to actually admit it’s true – Sundays are the dreaded day. It’s the worst day of the week. [Great post explaining why here] And I am so relieved to live somewhere where Sundays are simply considered “fundays”.

Easter brunch is a great tradition here in the U.S. Throw together some painted eggs, some coffee, oj, a little champagne, some pastel colored clothes, a jacquard sweater and you’ve got yourself an Easter brunch party. Americans love to dress up for Easter brunch – they bring out Spring colors and welcome the season with a warm hug one can only find on this side of the pond. Forget the boring rainy French Easter lunches at grandma’s house where aunt Monique is telling you again for the hundredth times not to put your elbows on the table.

Today, with a 70 degree F (21 degrees C) weather shinning beyond the beautiful yellow daffodils in bloom in the neighborhood, the Spring game of peek-a-boo was more than taunting and tantalizing. Easter brunch started with tangerine Champagne cocktails, Mimosas and Bellinis with a home-made peach granita. Today’s menu and appetizers included a prosciutto plate paired with Asian pear wedges and mint, a blue cheese wild mushroom spinach quiche and a salad of shrimp and roasted peppers (aka Insalata di scampi e peperoni arrosti).

As the afternoon went on, the Moroccan leg of lamb with mint sauce accompanied with a vegetable sauté with orange and balsamic was ready to be consumed. I don’t know if it was the harissa, the ras el hanout, or the strong mint flavored sauce, or perhaps even the overindulgence of Champagne, but the light was shinier, the flowers more fragrant, the guests and the birds happier carrying noises of Spring and a new season about to bloom through the open windows.

As expected for brunch, desserts were plentiful and varied. Mini tarts for all! Lime and ginger, chocolate raspberry with cayenne pepper, rhubarb and almond with a St Germain syrup – and to continue the celebration of citrusy fruits and fresh flavors, a pomelo-pistachio tart.

The afternoon went by and the bottles got empty. Everyone left with a sense of fulfillment that only a brunch can bring. This feeling of togetherness and of a delightful happiness that Sunday night is going to be a slow and enjoyable night with fun memories rushing through to be treasured forever. Oh and this old fear of Monday morning looming over your shoulder? Disappeared in a puff of smoke. Happy brunch!

Frenchie and the Easter Menagerie

22 Apr

Every year at this time, I go on this mad search across town covering every square inch, looking in every gourmet food stores for a chocolate hen. You can call this my very own Easter tradition. Alas, chocolate hens I never find because Americans only believe in the Easter bunny.

Now, let me explain before you start snickering at the idea of a chocolate Easter chicken. It’s not just a chicken – way too trivial and unimaginative – it’s actually a hen, which is a lot more elegant. When you grow up in France, depending on the region, the focus during Easter is on the eggs as well as the hens. Not a bunny. The stores will feature plain as well as pastel colored decorated chocolate eggs and hens for kids and adults to enjoy… or pig out! Dark, milk or white chocolate, these big hollow hens are a delight for whomever has a sweet tooth. I have only found one chocolate hen once in my life in the U.S. and I should have kept it forever like a long lost treasure instead of eating it right away.

So bunny or hen? Actually, there are more animals involved in this zoological Easter tradition! In Switzerland, they talk about the Easter cuckoo. And in Australia, they have the Easter bilby – this tiny little endangered marsupial. It seems that in Eastern and Northern Europe, in Anglo-saxon as well as Germanic countries – including Alsace, the Eastern region of France - the chocolate eggs are brought by bunnies. Apparently, bunnies being the most prolific during the Spring season used to represent fertility and renewal. Now how can I explain to the bunny believers that rabbits are mammals so they do not lay eggs therefore cannot be responsible for bringing eggs?

In France, as well as Belgium, the hens lay the eggs for everyone to scavenger hunt in grandma’s backyard during Easter lunch. However, the other emblematic symbol of Easter, along with the hens, is the church bell. Being a Christian tradition, Easter places the church bells as an important part of the celebration and the story says that they took a trip to Rome and brought eggs on their way back dropping them in everyone’s gardens. Now if you’re not a Christian, you don’t really hear or talk about the bells traveling to Italy with a round-trip ticket and empty suitcases to bring back chocolate eggs for all kids. The funny part is that illustrated children’s stories and store signs will feature drawings of bells with wings flying away to Rome. Yes, wings – on each side!

The stores in the U.S. only carry chocolate eggs and bunnies, which is quite sad and dull. In France, the stores are much busier with all sort of chocolate symbols and animals. We have hens, we have bells (yes, they do make chocolate bells), we have eggs, and now that we live in a globalized world we also have bunnies. Oh and more oddly, we have chocolate Easter fish too… don’t ask, I have no clue.

Did somebody say chocolate?

Frenchie and the Pessimism Nouveau

4 Jan

Breaking news: “France tops misery poll for 2011″. “French, the world champions of scepticism”. “France lands in Top 5 pessimistic countries for 2011 ahead of Afghanistan and Irak”!

The French are pessimistic? Really? Now that’s not really breaking news!!

Pessimism is a French trait and that’s not new. The French are pessimists and they raise pessimistic children. Didn’t de Gaulle himself once say that the French are “temperamental, stubborn and complainers”? I think he also forgot pessimistic. So is pessimism a French invention?

Heard out and about:

- in the U.S.: “I thought the Patriots didn’t play very well last night. I don’t know, something about their game. They have a weak pass defense. And they keep loosing. But the new kid is doing a great job for them and they’re definitely gonna come back strong, I just know they’re gonna win!”

- in France: “Yeah, the French team was not too terrible last night but… I just know they won’t win. There’s no way they’re gonna make it to the finals. No way! I mean, yeah they won last night – not by much if you ask me – but the way it’s going right now, they won’t win.”

- in the U.S.: “You have good grades overall. You just have to be careful in Biology, you got a B -. Let’s set up something with other classmates so we can create a support system and hold group studies twice a week, I know it’d be very beneficial for everyone and your grades would definitely improve!”

- on a French grade report: “Shows some potential, but could do better. Must try harder”.

<Sigh!> The French grade report. Didn’t we all get at one point the dreaded and completely obscure – although now hilarious – “peut mieux faire” (“could do better”)? Weren’t we trying our hardest to get the best grades until we realized that no one could ever get a grade better than 12 out of 20? If you got 10, you could claim to be a happy man. “No need to study like crazy, you know this teacher never gives anyone more than 9 or 10 out of 20 anyway!” So pessimists from Day 1? “Nice drawing but it could use more colors” – the joys of art classes!

The French and their “buts”, somehow, somewhere, there will be a “mais” in the sentence. “It’s good but… you did not do enough work on the last part of the assignment”. “Yes you can come to the party but… there will be a lot of people”. “This recipe is very tasty but… I would have added more rosemary”. When there’s a will, there’s a but. Is “yes, but” the greatest French pessimistic tool ever invented? What a civil way of agreeing while reinforcing a pessimistic disagreement!

So which is better? The French very realistic pessimistic approach that 2011 is not going to be a great year for the economy or the American “think positive with blinders on” overcaffeinated hyper approach that all is going to be well and you just have to trust the system? A little bit of both maybe? In any case, whether you want to French-complain your New Year or American-artificially-force 2011, remember to optimistically wish every one a good New Year.

Happy Freakin’ New Year, this is so exciting woo hoo!… yes, but the Holidays are over and we have to go back to work… boo!

Pessimistic, moi?

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