Advice from a Melbourne pub: France for Christmas – leave the stockings at home
Enjoying a cold VB in the Cricketers Arms pub, Port Melbourne, I overheard two Aussies discussing what it’s like to spend Christmas in France.
Their names were Ben and Larry, I was intrigued to hear what they had to say about Christmas in France and how it differs from Christmas Down Under.
B: So you’re off to France for Christmas? First time?
L: Yeah mate. Get me a beer and I’ll tell you all about it.
B: OK, it’s my shout is it? Cheers. So when do you leave?
L: Well, Jacqui and the kids get to her parents’ house in mid-December, and I join them there just before Christmas.
B: That’s great mate, you’ll really enjoy it.
L: Well you lived in France for a few years didn’t you? Tell me what to expect.
B: OK, well firstly, there are lots of cultural differences. Not much shrimp on the barbie at this time of year, and you won’t find the latest cricket scores in La Dépêche. French TV is worse than ours so forget about watching ‘The Great Escape’ or ‘The Sound of Music’ again.
But, where do your in-laws live?
L: I can’t even pronounce the name. It’s a small village in the Southwest.
B: Well, that sounds like la France profonde. But you’re sure to eat and drink like a king there. Food is very important in France. It’s taken seriously. Even the kids know all about it.
L: So what can I expect for Christmas in France then?
B: Well, not many greetings cards, and no Christmas crackers. So you won’t have that chorus of groans that cracker jokes provoke. You know, “Question: What do they sing at a snowman’s birthday party?” “Answer: Freeze a jolly good fellow.” And no carol singers either, so you won’t have to put the lights out and hide and pretend no one’s home to get rid of them. Also, French kids put out shoes for Père Noël to fill with prezzies.
B: Yes, they’ve never heard of Christmas stockings over there. And the main meal will probably be on Christmas Eve. It invariably starts with oysters and foie gras.
L: Hang on mate. What’s that?
B: Duck liver. And it’s to die for. Often just cured in salt – cru au sel – and eaten cold. Or sometimes it’s snap fried in Floc de Gascogne – that’s the local apéro. You can only get it in Gascony. It’s a sweetish mixture of Armagnac and unfermented grape juice. Then comes the turkey with chestnut stuffing – which is like goo and is usually dire. And they’ll probably open a few bottles of Bordeaux with the main course.
Fortunately, Brussel sprouts aren’t that popular at Christmas in France, so you won’t have to check inside all the dining-room ornaments afterwards to see if the kids have disposed of any in there. A range of delicious cheeses follows, but always served BEFORE the dessert. Fortunately there’s no Christmas pudding or mince pies – the French are much too civilised for that.
L: I’m with you on that one mate. My dad told me that pudding was developed in England to chuck at the Germans from the cliffs at Dover if invasion ever came during WWII.
B: Quite right. The French prefer something much more sophisticated – like a Christmas log or bûche de Noël – which is a fancy rolled sponge covered in cream and chocolate. It’s far superior and no one has to have emergency dental treatment for teeth broken on old coins of the realm hidden inside the pudding. Of course they’re sure to serve good champagne with the dessert.
You’ll also learn all about Armagnac. But we can’t go into that now. You’ll have to wait until you get there to find out how to warm it in your hands, how to savour the aromas and how to sip it using your nose to focus all the flavour.
Then there’s kissing. Even the men kiss each other on the cheek. The problem is that where you’re from in France determines the number of kisses you give. But you’ll have that all well worked out soon after you get there.
L: Strewth, I hope so mate. Wouldn’t want to give too many kisses would I?
B: So your French isn’t that good then?
B: What about the kids?
L: They’re good. Their French is great. Jacqui talks to them in French all the time. And when Pierre – he’s four – says “oui” to me, I kid him and ask if he wants to “do a wee?” All he says is “Dad, don’t be silly, “oui” means “yes” in French.”
B: Well, there are lots of traps to fall into if your French isn’t that good. I once brought the house down when ordering a coffee. I asked for “un grand noir allongé.”
L: So, what’s that mean?
B: “A big black man lying down”, which is not exactly what I meant.
L: No, I hope not, mate.
B: Well, time for me to go. Don’t worry. It’ll be great. And when everyone’s ready to say goodbye, just say “adishatz”. It means “see ya later” in Gascogne. They’ll be amazed at your local knowledge. And, finally, don’t forget your Vegemite. But don’t let your in-laws see you eating it, or giving it to the kids. They’ll think you’re some kind of barbarian – which would probably be quite right, I suppose, wouldn’t it?
L: Bugger off mate! See you when I get back.
B: Oui. OK. Bon voyage. Joyeux Noël et Bonne Année.
Have you ever spent Christmas in France? Can you relate to this conversation? Share your funny French Christmas moments with us in the comments below!
1. ‘Pub’, Christian_Birkolz via Pixabay
2. ‘Ah, le sapin de Noël a été installé sur le parvis de Notre-Dame’, Groume via Wikimedia
3. ‘Foie gras – food product made of the liver of a duck or goose that has been specially fattened’, Nikodem Nijaki via Wikimedia
4. ‘Remy Martin XO – Remy Martin Louis XIII – Hennessy Richard’, Simon Aughton via Wikimedia
5. ‘Bûche de Noël’, Caitlin Childs via Flickr