Posted tagged ‘French Customs’

The Sweetness Of May

May 1, 2016

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A lovely French custom is to offer people sprigs of lily of the valley on this day, the 1st of May. It’s a custom that is said to go all the way back to the Renaissance, falling in and out of favor over the centuries, but always signifying good luck and good fortune.

Normally France has at least as many bureaucratic restrictions as any other country on earth, but on this day anyone may sell muguets on the street, not needing a permit, which I think contributes greatly to the public good and general happiness quotient. I remember that my first year in France I bought a handful and handed them out to the butcher, the baker, and pretty much everyone who made my life there more pleasant. It was only later that I learned that you usually only give them to friends, but by that time, those people had become my friends, so I chalked it up to the power of the sweet little flower.

This year, my new garden is full of them, and the corner where they grow smells intoxicatingly sweet. I bring them into the house, admiring their creamy white and oh-so-delicate bells, and think of France, about how I’d love to wander my old neighborhood, handing out little sprigs of happiness.

But this year it will have to be virtual, des muguets virtuels, and I offer some to you. From a cool, fragrant little corner of my life, a symbol of friendship and good luck, please accept them with my hopes that you have a lovely May Day, with just a soupçon of la vie française.

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France Drops In

March 8, 2011

I forget to get dressed.  For me, as an American, when I’m home I feel safe from appraisal and critique, thus I slop around the house, usually bra-less, in sweats. Shel waits to do the dishes until the mood strikes him, although it’s always at least once a day. As far as I know, this is a normal American approach to life. If someone wants to see us, they call, we fix a time, we rush around and get all tidied up, and no one’s the wiser.

In France, however, it’s absolutely normal to drop in unannounced. It’s not considered to be rude at all, because every French person is properly dressed by a decent hour, and the house is always ready to receive visitors. I’m sure that’s a generalization, and there must be some French people who are as carefree and messy as we, but I have to say that I don’t know anyone like that.

For better and for worse, our house is behind a wall and a gate. Visitors must be buzzed in to enter, which is also absolutely normal here. All of this, I’m sure, is left over from the times when the south of France was invaded on a pretty much continuous basis, leading people to feel insecure if they’re not behind walls.  When a French friend visited us in the States she was shocked to see how open everything was, not a fence in sight, doors left unlocked. Impensable, unthinkable, to a French person, from this part of the country at least.

Fortunately, Shel is a lot less embarrassed than I am to be caught bra-less, since that’s his natural attire, which leads to silliness like my hastily dashing upstairs before he buzzes in the unexpected visitor so that I can get properly dressed before anyone catches me in my customarily disheveled state. If the house is a mess, well, he’s the first person the visitor sees, so he’s the one to make the excuses, leaving me to descend like the Queen and offer tea, seemingly oblivious to such minor details.

But today Shel wasn’t feeling well, and went to take a nap, and (perhaps I’m finally learning) I stayed decently dressed after my morning’s shopping, for no reason at all.  And boy did I feel smug when the electrician dropped by to make some repairs. It was actually kind of satisfying, to feel ready for anything, even a discussion of burned-out transformers and missing light sockets, in a crisp white shirt.

I’m not promising to become more French in this regard, but I’m considering it. We have friends coming over tomorrow, and the next day, so it’s a sure thing I’ll be dressed.  If you’re inclined to drop in, that would be the time.