And the paradox is that despite their reputation for being oftentimes rude or standoffish, the French are actually quite festive and sentimental. Nowhere has this been more apparent than during these past five days – it’s almost as if they’ve been waiting for January 1st to roll around so they can uncharacteristically smile and cry out “Bonne Année!” to one and all.
I’ve just spent these last few days exchanging New Year’s greetings with every living person that has crossed my path. If dogs could speak, we would’ve bid one another a happy and healthy New Year.
“Je vous souhaite tous mes meilleurs voeux pour l’année!”
“Bonne Année, Bonne Santé….surtout la Santé!”
It’s nice. Very nice. But I’m exhausted. I’m not used to all this Parisian jollity. It started with neighbours in my building followed by the postman and then the concièrge and then the café owner and his wife on the corner and then the streetsweepers as they stood on the corner knocking back espressos from the café and having a smoke. Even our local homeless person had something salutary to say. And that was just on my way to work. Once at the office, things really heated up.
“Meilleurs voeux!” exclaimed my boss, leaping from her chair when I walked in on Monday morning. I stood in the doorway of her office. Was she going to shake my hand or kiss me? There’s always that awkward moment when you don’t know whether to stick out your hand or proffer your cheek. The best action to take is to just stand there and let them take charge. Thank goodness Parisians only kiss twice, as opposed to three or four like they do in the nether regions of France.
And so it went on for the next two days: email greetings from the CEO and other self-important people, colleagues stopping by my office to declare, somewhat solemnly “Bonjour Juliet. Je te présente tous mes meilleurs vœux de bonheur et de santé pour l’année.“ I was touched. Truly! Chocolates were passed around and much kissing and laughing went on in corridors. A champagne cocktail party for the entire staff has been organized.
It’s funny, this kissing thing. (As I said, in Paris it’s twice, once on each cheek.) Being Anglo-Saxon, as we’re called here, I’ve never been a fan; I prefer a swift, no-nonsense handshake. I’ve just had a thought … maybe it’s me who’s standoffish??
Anyway, the next festivity will be the Galette des Rois or the Cake of Kings, the delicious flaky pie filled with almond paste baked for Epiphany on 6 January. (Epiphany: the 12th day after Christmas, celebrates the visit of the three kings or wise men to the Christ Child.)