Happy New Year!
Bonne Année

It's a New Year!

Of course it comes in a bit blearily, with some glasses raised in toasts among friends, and good wishes for the new year shouted over the ambient noise of lots of people, all speaking at the same time in a relatively small venue.

It also comes in with a bit of a snowstorm, a rarity for us in Normandy. I might have to actually shovel off my sidewalks after all!

My Resolutions

With the coming of the New Year, each one of us takes stock of the past year and decides what to do to make the next one a little better.

What are your resolutions for 2010? Mine are:

Finish my novel, write a convincing query letter, research the appropriate agents who might be willing to take it on, send out many, many of these perfected query letters and then start writing the sequel.

Contribute at least one short story per month to a short story competition as a writing exercise.

Get a bit more control of the state of the yard work. Tame the bushes around the pool and behind the little house. Notice that I didn't mention housework, which I hate, yet, not quite so much as ironing.

Keep up with physical exercise, to keep feeling capable of doing everything I want my body to be able to do. Well... at least the realistic stuff. No skydiving or ski-jumping.

Try a new recipe in the kitchen once a month just to jazz dinner up a bit.

Keep up with the blog writing, at a minimal rate of one per month.

Continue to develop extra articles about all the cool things there are to do in France: museums, churches, castles and points of natural interest. The research for this is a real treat!

Lose the inevitable ten pounds. Of course had I lost ten pounds every year since that particular resolution has held a prominent place on my list, I would be a stick insect by now. But no list of New Year's resolutions would look quite right if it didn't have either losing weight or quitting smoking. Luckily, I don't smoke or I'd have both. How unrealistic would that be?

The French Traditions

The French do much the same where resolutions come into play. However, there's another tradition they indulge in which we, as Americans, mostly let slide.

Here, the entire month of January is given over to seeking out all of your friends and acquaintances with the singular goal of wishing them a healthy, prosperous New Year. The mandatory speech goes something like this:

“Bonne Année! Et bonne santé surtout car sans la santé, le reste ne compte pas!” says Pierre to Jean-Paul. (read: Happy New Year! And good health to you, since without good health the rest is useless!)

“Oui! Bonne Année à toi aussi! Et oui, la santé ça compte pour beaucoup. Mais aussi, que le boulot continue et que tu gagnes au loto!” answers Jean-Paul. (read: Yeah, Happy New Year to you too. And yes, good health counts for a lot. But also that your job holds out, you don't get laid off and that you win the lottery!)

“Et que tes enfants reussissent dans leurs études. Et que l'amour continue!” retorts Pierre. (read: And that your kids do well with their studies, and that your love doesn't fade.)

“Et que tu ne choppes pas une contrôle fiscale et que ta chatte n'a pas de chatons!” replies Jean-Paul. (read: And that you don't get audited by the IRS and that your cat doesn't have kittens!)

“Et que l'enfant dont ta femme est enceinte ne ressemble pas au facteur!” slings back Pierre; (read: And that the child your wife is carrying isn't born looking like the mailman!)

“Oui, et que ta femme à toi ne prend pas un amant pour remplacer son mari idiot!” snarls Jean-Paul. (read: Yeah, and that your wife doesn't replace her idiot husband with a lover!)

At this point all hell breaks loose and noses get punched.

No, I'm joking. But seriously, this whole eternal exchange thing is a bit of a chore.

You repeat it hundreds of times throughout January, even to the butcher, the baker, the greengrocer, your local car dealer, the bookshop owner and any human being you see more than once a year. It's exhausting! And you must keep track of who you've already seen since midnight on Dec 31st, because repeating the scenario is a no-no. It brings back luck.

You also are expected to adapt your good wishes to the particular circumstances of each recipient of your good wishes. Bad form if you wish good luck to the guy's kids with their studies if they recently got kicked out of school!

For your closest friends, you must call them on the phone or go see them within a day or two after the 1st. The phone companies just love this tradition, people's phone bills sky-rocket! Other people, you send greeting cards to, reiterating all of these polite good wishes, again with specific remarks concerning each particular family. For general acquaintances, you just wait until you run into them.

Basically, no work gets done in France during the entire month of January because of all the time people are taking to be polite to each other, especially regarding their continued good health. This is because co-workers all do the same routine regarding each other, the boss, his wife and kids and the cleaning lady. By the time they've mown through the entire building, client and suppliers lists, it's February and time for the ski vacation.

Ah! Galette des Rois!

galette des roisTo keep up the spirits of the general public after all this tiring folderol, they've come up with another tradition. This one involves food.

In every bakery and supermarket in the country, a round flat pastry appears. Its size varies depending on how many people are partaking. The biggest ones reach the size of a medium pizza. Thick flaky brown crust is filled with either marzipan, apple compote, raspberry compote or chocolate cream. This is called the galette des rois and its origins have to do with the three kings bringing presents to the baby Jesus.

Hidden inside is a fève or bean, which is actually a tiny porcelain figurine of some sort. The person who gets the fève in his share of pastry is declared king and gets to choose his queen, or vice versa. Each pastry is sold with a gold paper crown. Kids think it's great fun and adults who are named king usually have to buy a round of drinks for the other participants.

As usual the French have succeeded rather well at taking a religious tradition and turning it into a cause for eating and drinking. Smart thinking, that.

There is another good side to all of ,in addition to the tasty pastry. If I happen be my normal disorganized self, and time runs out before I can get to the post office with my Christmas cards, I can pretend that I'm adhering to the French tradition and send them off all throughout January! Although now that I've given my secret away, I might not be able to pull it off next year.

And so my wish for you!

At any rate, Bonne Année and Bonne Santé to you all.

May you stick to your resolutions.

May the birds in your yard never aim at you when you're mowing the lawn and may the IRS forget you, unless of course they owe you money!


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