The Lou Messugo Blog - life in the south of France from a British/Australian TCK's perspective, bringing you French culture, travel on the Côte d'Azur and beyond, expat issues and a little bit of je ne sais quoi all mixed up with a hefty dose of photography.

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Halloween in France

Posted by on in French culture

Halloween is not traditionally celebrated in France, though in some locations you'd be forgiven for thinking the opposite.  The area and the age of the population can make a great deal of difference. Children love it, the older generation don't and those in the middle fall somewhere in between!  The more international the area, particularly the more Americans there are, the more the date is celebrated.

Halloween lantern

I arrived in France in 1997 just as Halloween was taking off.  It was effectively imported into the country by large US corporations particularly Disney, using pumpkins, bats, witches etc in their marketing. Disneyland Paris opened in 1992 and by 1995 Halloween was starting to become something of a success in France. I remember being amazed at the way the French seemed to have espoused such an anglosaxon (the traditional enemy) festival - shops were decorated to the nines with spooky stuff and kids started Trick or Treating.  (Well, a variation on Trick or Treating as the Trick bit didn't seem to have been assimilated.  It was just a knock on the door followed by a bag in your face and a small voice demanding "bonbons", there was no question of saying no!) Pâtisseries especially seemed to get in on the act, producing plenty of themed chocolates and cakes, displayed on pumpkins under cobwebs, next to spiders, you get my drift...  

Halloween food shops in France

The French love to party and love fancy dress so when bars and nighclubs got in on the Halloween act too they were eagerly supported by party-going adults keen to have another excuse to have fun.   Unlike in the States where any fancy dress goes, here it's all about scary, spooky, creepy costumes.  Skeletons, vampires, witches, ghosts and zombies rule. 

Halloween party in France

But by the mid noughties Halloween was losing favour.  It has been in decline in the last few years as more and more people see it as too American and purely a commercial marketing ploy rather than a real French holiday.  It's certainly true that confectionery manufacturers benefit enormously as sales of sweets go up by 30% in October, in a month that's otherwise fairly quiet.   The whole issue of Halloween borders on controversial here.  In general the older generation and traditionalists don't really understand its point and find it tasteless.  They think it is disrespectful to the real French holiday celebrated on the 1st of November, Toussaint, All Saints Day.  This is a time when families gather to remember their dead by cleaning and freshening up family tombstones.  But Halloween is in fact in some way related to All Saints as the word itself comes from the original mass held on 1st of November which was called Allhallowmass. All Hallow's Eve (which became shortened to Hallowe'en) was therefore the evening before All Saints...but this isn't what I set out to write about, it's for another time!

Toussaint flowers

So back to France.  Over the years I've seen Halloween get bigger and bigger and then all but disappear. In the last couple of years I've noticed it again in the south.  I can't speak of the whole of France obviously, though my research in the media has backed me up that it has lost favour over all.  Around me on the Côte d'Azur, a very international area, quite a few shops are decorated, as ever it's the boulangeries and chocolate makers who really go to town.  Pumpkins, which aren't a particularly popular vegetable here and therefore not usually around, are available to carve and costumes are on sale.  The nearby village of Valbonne always gets into the spirit with all the shopkeepers participating in a big Trick or Treat (without the Trick of course!)  It's a small medieval village built on a grid system with narrow cobbled alleyways, almost fully pedestrian-only.  The regular straight streets make it easy to navigate and not get lost so it's a perfect place for kids to wander around unaccompanied getting their haul of bonbons. The atmosphere is usually very festive.  Many adults dress up too and the central square, decorated with cobwebs, reverberates to the sound of witches and ghouls drinking merrily in the bars.  

Halloween Valbonne France

I think the Valbonne example is fairly unique and it certainly doesn't reflect the way France in general celebrates Halloween.  I never came across anything like this in all the years I lived in the Paris area, even at the height of its popularity and this year in Paris there's almost no sign at all that Halloween is about to take place.  Apart from the decorated shops, Halloween is really only celebrated on the night of the 31st and very few, if any, houses will be decorated in the run up to it. In fact very few houses will do anything at all unless they are hosting a party and only then might they display a Jack-o-lantern outside.  Halloween is always during the school holidays in France so it doesn't matter what night in the week it falls, children never have to go to school the next day (1st of November is a public holiday too).

Halloween decorations for sale in France

To sum up, Halloween isn't a simple festival in France, it leaves people with conflicting opinions. Children are taught about it in English classes across the country and want to join in.  Adults are divided.  I wonder whether isolated villages in la France profonde mark the 31st of October in any way?  I doubt it.  The Côte d'Azur isn't representative of France as a whole and neither is Paris.  I'd love to hear from anyone who lives in a less international area.  Is Halloween celebrated where you are?

 

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Silent Sunday - 26 October 2014

Posted by on in European Travel

eiffel tower

 

 

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Luxurious day on the beach

Posted by on in Provence-Côte d'Azur

It seems a little crazy to be writing a post about the beach in late October but we're having such great weather that we keep going to the beach, so I thought I'd share!

JLP in October

The Côte d'Azur has literally hundreds of different beaches, from quiet pebbly coves to long sandy stretches and nearly all are public, open to anyone.  But it also has some private beaches where you can rent a sunlounger and parasol and enjoy waiter service for a day, living the Riviera dream. These too are open to anyone, just at a price.

Nice plage Nice beach

When we go to the beach as a family and with friends we have our favourites - different places depending on the mood that day or the age of the group and so on - and we always go to public free beaches.  (You can find out more about recommended beaches for children here).  But for a rare childfree day JF and I occasionally go to a private beach and while away a few hours on a comfy padded sunbed, being waited on.  We order drinks and lunch and it all feels very luxurious and decadent.  It's not cheap though! 

beach Juan Les Pins 05

Here are some photos from this week.

beach Juan Les Pins 02

beach Juan Les Pins 01

beach Juan Les Pins 03

beach Juan Les Pins 04

beach Juan Les Pins 06You can reserve your sunbed in advance at some beaches (like this one, Pirate Beach, in Juan les Pins) but this week we didn't think it would be necessary, being late October, and nearly missed out. We were in the back row on one of the last available plots!  The main areas with private beaches are Cannes, Nice and Juan les Pins though most towns have at least one. For the price you get the use of the changing cabins, showers and toilets, but let's face it, it's a pretty silly price for a regular day at the beach.  For a special occasion on the other hand, it's not so much to spend for a little bit of luxury.

What do you think?  Would you pay to lie on the beach?

 

Linking up with Travel Photo Thursday over at Budget Travelers Sandbox

 

 

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Daily Bread - the French Baguette

Posted by on in Food & drink

France is a country that takes its bread very seriously and in particular the baguette reigns supreme. This simple stick of bread in a sense symbolises France and is a celebrated part of French national culture, recognised instantly by foreigners and idolised by the French. It is both a stereotype and a genuine French icon. In his book "Anthropologie des mangeurs de pain" (Anthropology of bread eaters)* Anthropologist Abdu Gnaba says of bread  "it is what defines and characterises the French".

french bread

So let's take a closer look at this humble food item. Here are some fun facts: 320 baguettes are consumed per second in France resulting in a total of 10 billion a year! 98% of the French population eat bread and for 83% this is every day. They munch through 130g of bread a day or 58 kg a year! Bread is considered healthy by 86% of the population and essential for a balanced diet by 82%.

Baguettes boulangerie

Bread is taken so seriously that in 1993 a law was passed, le Décret Pain, declaring that to be called a baguette "maison" (homemade) only 4 ingredients could be used – flour, water, salt and yeast . The baguette must be entirely made on the premises and not brought in from elsewhere. In addition, to be called "tradition" (traditional) it could not be frozen nor contain preservatives and additives. French are very loyal to their favourite boulangerie (bakery) which may not necessarily be the closest, they may go a long way out of their way to buy what they consider the best bread. 70% of bread is still produced in boulangeries rather than industrial factories and they are plentiful, often being only commerce in a small village.  I once lived in a town with 5 boulangeries in one city block and they all had queues every morning.

Frenchman with baguette

A baguette is baked to be crusty and golden on the outside and fluffy, white and soft on the inside. When fresh it should spring back into shape if pressed but because of the lack of preservatives it doesn't last and is meant to be consumed within a day. However, how people like their bread baked is entirely personal and while waiting in line to buy bread you'll notice different words being used by customers to select their baguette : "pas trop cuite, s'il vous plaît" (not too cooked please), "bien cuite, s'il vous plaît" (well cooked please). Regular clients don't have to say anything as their preference is remembered and handed out daily. Or even twice a day. As I just mentioned, baguettes don't last so many people buy fresh for every meal. On weekends and other days off JF regularly walks to our local boulangerie twice a day. Once for breakfast and once in the late afternoon for bread to go with dinner.  Our little kid begs to be allowed to go and get the baguette on his bike and the teenager grumbles when asked!  In many places baguettes are still delivered daily, just like milk is/used to be in Britain. In the picture below I had the baguette posed to stick out of its box for illustration purposes, but note that there is a lid and normally the bread would be inside safe from the weather.  And from birds.  My mother-in-law used to have her baguette delivered to a home-made tube cut from a length of drainpipe, fixed horizontally on the garden wall. However she regularly found it on the street well and truly pecked.  On investigation she discovered some cheeky crows were pulling out the baguette and eating it!  

baguette delivery

This leads me to how the French eat their bread. It is provided with every lunch and dinner, sliced into small portions and usually served in a communal basket. Everyone helps themselves to a bit which they place by their plate, directly on the table. Separate side plates are not used and butter is rarely offered. This bread is used as an extra piece of cutlery, pushing food on to the fork and mopping up sauce at the end. There's even a verb for this action "saucer", to sauce, i.e to mop up. This, I hasten to add, is very familial behaviour and not considered proper etiquette in high society or when trying to impress. But my boys barely know how to finish their meal if they don't have a piece of bread to sauce with and have to remember that it's not normal to expect bread with every meal when they're not in France.

kid with baguette

Baguette, when eaten at breakfast, is usually sliced lengthways and grilled. Prepared in an open stye like this it's called a "tartine".  In this case butter and jam or honey are spread on the tartine and it's often dunked into a bowl of hot coffee/tea or chocolate. Another favourite way to eat baguette, particularly for children at goûter (tea-time, for more on this click here), is with a slab of chocolate wedged in the middle, or slathered in Nutella. I make no secret of loving this myself!

baguette with chocolate

Bread is so much a part of French culture that even the word for "mate/pal/ buddy" copain comes from Latin cum pane (with bread) meaning the person with whom you share bread. Bread is so important it has a Patron Saint and every year on the feast day of St Honoré, on the 16th May, processions, tastings and other festivities take place throughout the country. But for me a favourite example of how seriously bread is considred is that there is a Grand Prix de la Baguette. Once a year bakers in Paris compete for the title of best boulanger which comes with a financial reward and the prestigious contract to supply the President of the Republic with daily bread for a year. Isn't that great?

Meilleure Boulangerie PACA

Do you love Fench bread like I do?  What's your favourite type?  Is bread a big part of the diet where you live?

* Anthropologie des mangeurs de pain, published by L'Harmattan, 2011

 

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