Thursday, January 15, 2009

A French tradition I could do without

It’s mid-January and a client in the cheap-o hair salon where I’m getting my layer cut freshened up wishes the hairdresser a happy new year. “Oh, yes, Happy New Year. I forgot,” says the hairdresser. The retired-age client says, “Yes, I suppose we can keep wishing it into the middle of the month.” This is serious business in France. At work the salesguy sees clients and asks them if he’s “presented his wishes” yet. If not, then get ready for a sappy, long mini-speech that goes something like this: Happy New Year, stay healthy, may all your wishes come true, lots of love and money…” Ok, I’m exaggerating, but not by much. This little ceremony always kills me, because we Anglophones generally just say Happy New Year, and only until January 3rd at the latest. But the French are the kings of formality sometimes. Just saying hello in the office every morning can mean a round of cheek kisses for the girls, hand shakes among men.

But more tiring than all the wishes is the Visiting of All Relatives for the New Year. This takes place some Sunday afternoon in January when I could think of a million better things to do. I thought having a baby would shorten this for us, but we still spent our whole afternoon with my husband’s parents, hopping from one house to the next, three in total. Baby slept through one visit completely. Must be her American side protesting the tradition?!

I think I must be getting used to it myself or taking care of baby serves as a nice distraction. Of course, there are still some rather annoying aspects, such as my husband’s great aunt who blithely asked me if I’ve gained weight. Perhaps, I replied neutrally, though frankly I don’t think I’ve kept too much baby weight, aside from a kind of bumpy tummy. Then there are those conversation topics that never change from year to year, genre, the unmarried cousin and the teenage girl who is rather “strong”, meaning chubby.

At each house we are offered something to eat and for once I don’t have to deal with weird meats and blue cheeses. So the “menu” this year for all three houses: sugary cookies at house one, bits of cake and strawberry mousse frosting at house two, then two slices of the marzipan-filled epiphany cake and one slice of the roulage type “bûche” cake at house three. But even though I have a super sweet tooth, it’s a bit too much for me. All of it is doused with alcohol, except for me as baby’s still nursing and I was the designated driver for my little family unit.

Luckily we made it home by 7, and the good news is I’ve got a whole year before we start the thing over again.

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