2015 has well and truly landed. New Year’s Eve has been and gone under a sprinkling of champagne bubbles and the cold, wet reality of January is here to stay.
I could use the first post of 2015 to talk about my many resolutions, my good intentions to write in this blog more regularly etc. But, as I started tapping, my thoughts began to wander to the differences between Christmas and New Year in France and the UK.
In France, the festivities are certainly set in motion a lot later (none of this Christmas decorations on sale at the end of September nonsense) and always seem a little more subdued and, dare I say, tasteful. Christmas cards become New Year cards, and even these don’t reach the same epic proportions as in the UK – no, there’s no need to send a card to everyone you know, just family and friends you don’t see very often.
For me, one of the strangest things is the French obsession with saying “Bonne Année” or “Happy New Year”. At first, it all seem very friendly and cosy. On the 1st of January people in the street I’d never met before stopped to wish me a Happy New Year. I smiled and gave a cheery “Bonne Année” in return. By the 3rd January, I was a little less enthusiastic. I met up with my running club for a Sunday outing, the first since before all the mince pie eating (well, the French don’t eat mince pies, but I certainly did). We’d joined up with another local club for a not-so-leisurely trot through the Bois de Vincennes. I arrived to find myself surrounded by the unknown faces of runners from the “other club”. Trying to be friendly, I looked around and smiled at everyone and that’s when it all started. I was suddenly submerged by a waves of kisses and Happy New Years. I was overwhelmed, I struggled up for air, and, after what seemed an eternity, ducked away from the kissing crowds by taking a large step backwards for a much-needed breather! I had survived. Just.
This tradition carries on through and beyond the long grey month of January with the only condition being that you have not yet seen this person in the New Year.
However, all things considered, this obsession shouldn’t really surprise me. The French embrace the “Bonjour” and the “Bise” with just as much zeal – I’ve started to call this infamous trio the “three Bs”. Despite having lived in Paris for over 5 years, I stilled haven’t managed to fully adopt these truly French phenomena. Yes, I do give people I met the bise, but I’ll still sometimes sneak away at the end of a soirée to avoid lengthy goodbyes kisses and risk of missing the last metro. Yes, I do say Bonjour a lot, but I do sometimes forget and ask people in shops directly what I want. And, yes, I do like saying Bonne Année to the welcome in the New Year, but after a week or so I reach saturation point.
So, if you’re visiting France or planning a sticking around a while, remember the importance of being open to the three Bs. If in doubt, smile and copy the French person in front of you, bise, bonjour, bonne année included!