Thursday, November 30, 2006

Substitutes

Okay, so there's really no substitute for home, but if I squint hard enough I can usually make believe with things I have around me. Sometimes I appreciate France for what it is; sometimes I have to fake it. I remember having a psych professor who was really into behaviorism and successfully stopped smoking because of the substitution theory. He had a detailed plan and it involved substituting some other pleasure (gum? candy? drugs? can't remember...) every time he had the urge to smoke. Apparently before too long he managed to switch his nicotine addiction to something else that wasn't as physically addictive or harmful. I decided to try it out in times of need, and it works pretty well on a small scale. Family and friends are impossible to replace, but Dr. Pepper certainly is. Yeah, I know, it's obvious, but it helps to feel like I have a plan or at least some control over my life.

It's the holiday season and I'm missing a lot of the festivities that go on back home, so I'm looking around for replacements to be excited about here. It's getting easier as I am learning about what Christmas in my area is like, and I can definitely say that it helps knowing what to expect. One thing about my little town: it's very cute, and they do make an effort to decorate for Christmas. Now, in all honesty it's certainly not overdone -- and I mean this very sincerely in both a good and bad way -- but this year I knew more or less what was coming and so had something to look forward to versus to be surprised by. I prefer knowing what's coming up, at this point...am not sure if another side effect of pregnancy hormones is craving stability along with spicy food, but I'm less cool with the unknown right now.

So, without further ado, here is my list of things I'm currently able to predict and enjoy about Christmas in France:

The town decorations. Even if there aren't any decorations on houses or apartments and it wouldn't hurt a few businesses to at least put up a wreath, the town lights sure are pretty. I haven't figured out why they haven't turned on all of them yet -- just some of them -- but I'm enjoying the ones that are there. There are also little touches that I'm noticing here and there. My town is near a forest, and they've apparently cut down some bare branches of trees, spray painted them white, and then tied them to various posts/poles/vertical surfaces. The first time I saw them last year I thought they were trash waiting to be picked up, but then I figured out they were supposed to look like snowy trees. I think. Anyway, it's nice that they recycle and I'm keeping an eye out for them this year. I'd love to know the French Martha Stewart that came up with this idea. One other question I do have, though -- why don't they decorate pine trees on the top half? We've got several about town that I think are supposed to be Christmas trees, but only the bottom half is decorated. Did the Christmas Tree Decorator People go on strike? Are they just lazy? Didn't have enough ornaments to go around? Is there a reason? I'd love to know. It's strange, but I just chalk it up to "being French." **Update** The Christmas trees are fully decorated at last, so maybe they just had to find the ladder. And I'm not sure who is responsible for all the decorations, so if they're volunteers I should just give them a break. I did find out in the local newspaper that the 'illuminations' cost 25,000 euros yearly, which shocked my husband.

Christmas chocolate. Those of you who read my old blog will remember me rambling on and on about this last year. I love Christmas chocolate in France, no question about it. Last year I had a blast trying out some of the different boxes with plenty left over for us to try out this year. Currently, we're eating our way through the dark chocolate snail things, but I still prefer Lindt. If I feel a little blue, I can nip out and buy myself a little piece of happiness for about 6 euros. Life is so much better now that I'm off of that stupid sugar-free diet...let's just hope I can hang on to this one pleasure until baby arrives.

Christmas markets. They're everywhere, and although I haven't actually bought a lot at one of these said markets, I love the idea. I was a little disappointed by the one in my town last year, but if I don't have high expectations I can always be pleasantly surprised. I think the pleasure is more in the event than in the actual stuff to be bought, anyway. I don't have anywhere to put it, anyway.

Outdoor skating rinks. Even though I won't be on ice skates any time soon, the outdoor skating rinks almost make up for the lack of wreaths and greenery on local businesses. I love the fact that it's something for kids to get out and do, and it doesn't seem to be that expensive. I'm a fan of the rinks. **Update** This year, my town won't be having its own rink because it's apparently ludicrously expensive to do so, but I still see them all over the place and they still make me happy.

Food and drink. No spiced wine for me this year, but I sure enjoyed it last year. And I don't know that raclette or fondue (melted cheese on different stuff) is particularly Christmasy (apparently it is! Thanks, Petra!), but it goes well with cold weather and I ate enough of it last year to associate it with the holidays. Cheese -- good. Meat -- good. Potatoes -- good. Bread -- good. Put them all together, even better... I'll worry about the calories later. **Update** I can't believe I forgot the Christmas buche! Thanks, Doc, for reminding me. And the galette des rois...I should blog about that one later on...I love the almondy stuff.

The fact that Noel is Noel and not Winter Holiday (yet). I'm all for inclusivity when appropriate, but renaming things that are obviously still the same thing in essence doesn't make sense to me. We can all celebrate in our own ways and have our own traditions, but pretending that a Christmas tradition isn't really a Christmas tradition is silly. Winter Holiday Market doesn't sound the same as Christmas Market to me, and a Holiday Tree is just ridiculous. As far as I know, no one is actively protesting the word Noel around here. If they are, I don't want to know about it.

And last but not least, there are a few Christmas movies in French that I can convince myself to like. The longer I'm here, the easier it is for me to understand rapid-fire speech, so I get a sense of accomplishment out of watching the same movies and understanding more. On Monday it was La Buche, and I'm assuming that Le Pere Noel Est Une Ordure is somewhere down the road. I'll just buy a copy of A Christmas Story and I'll have the best of both worlds.

So, voila. If anyone has other stuff to add, please feel free -- I'll take whatever you have and put it in my stockpile of things to be thankful for.

6 comments:

Petra said...

Oh, raclette is very much a Christmas dinner. It is easy to prepare, fun for the whole family including the little ones, everybody always eats exactly what they like and so there is never ever anyone complaining. So, xmas peace to everyone!

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful adventure for us with your Christmas blog. Look forward to hearing about all the wonderful things happening with you and the baby. Some parts are covered with too much snow here and other places just rain and wind. Here it is just rain, but so far no fire in the stove so we are happy about that. Tonight will probably be time to fire the stove up to keep warm. Happy to hear you are able to cope with being away from home during the Holidays, but some folks are sure excited about your coming home for them. Have a great pre Christmas and a safe and happy journey.

Doc said...

galette des rois--though technically an after-Christmas/Epiphany thing....Shop windows always look yummier this time of year-even at the optician's...foie gras and foie gras and foie gras...les buches de noel--yummy...

Deb said...

I agree with you completely! There are a lot of nice things to do, see, and experience in France this time of year.

But since the decorations are only so-so around here, I would have to say that the chocolate and foods are my favorite. Especially the chocolate! You go into Auchan or Carrefour, and there are just tons and tons of different kinds of chocolate. Yum!!!

bcinfrance said...

Since I moved to France in 1990, there has been a huge increase in decorations -- even house lights in our area. I know it wastes energy, but does "make the season bright..."

bcinfrance said...

That's a lot to appreciate! I really like Christmas in France. i mean it will never be "home" in the childhood sense, but the magic of Christmas is there for my kids and that transfers it to me. Joyeux Noël!