For Christmas, I thought I would share my experience spending the holidays with my French host family when my husband and I were living in Paris back in 2011-2012. This story was originally posted on my blog Pasa’s Paris in January 2012…
We were leaving Paris for the countryside again. The plan was to spend Christmas with my French host family for the second time in my life, this time with my husband as well.
Our train tickets to Montargis had no seats marked. It made me cringe to think about having to fight for a place to sit on a crowded train, but my husband was agile enough to find a couple of empty seats and store our luggage before I even realized what was happening. A woman eventually approached and told us that they were her seats, but she and her husband had already found a couple of unreserved seats, so she told us we could stay. A Christmas gift indeed! No conductor ever came around to verify tickets, even though ours were validated and ready. Maybe the SNCF assumed that no one would risk getting on a train without a ticket at Christmas. Hopefully someone got a free ride.
My host brother picked us up from the station, and we went to the hyper-marché to pick up a few things. My husband and I gawked at all the choice, quantity and low prices available at such a grand surface. Rows and rows of wine, giant displays of cheese, every kind of meat you could think of. Living in Paris, we are used to going to the little supermarket down the street every day and only buying as many products as we can carry. Here in the countryside, you had a car that you could fill up with products, as long as you had the money. I suppressed the urge to ride the cart down an isle of wine and push all the bottles into it.
That evening, the 23rd, the feasting began. We all went over to the gîte that the oldest brother visiting from Copenhagen had rented with his Danish wife and baby son. My host mother brought over a tartiflette, a sturdy dish from the Haute-Savoie region made with potatoes, reblochon cheese, cream and lardons, salad and some delicious white wine.
The next day, Christmas Eve, I ate very little for breakfast because I knew we would be having two large meals that day. My host mother fed us all at lunchtime, and luckily in the afternoon we went on a walk to get flowers for my host mother’s sister who was having us all over for Christmas Eve dinner, or le réveillon. Someone picked out some electric blue orchids, which I thought were pretty but a bit strange.
When we arrived at my host mother’s sister’s house, I understood about the blue orchid. Everything in the house was blue: the tables, the walls, the chairs, the Christmas tree and all of the table settings were blue. Even the chocolate santas sitting at each place setting were blue. The hostess wore what looked like blue silk pajamas, blue earrings and blue glasses. She really wasn’t kidding around.
After all the kissing hello and the introductory chatting was over, we sat down at the table at around 8:30. There were about 15 people in all. Each place setting had a little photo on it to indicate whose place it was: mine was a map of California, my husband’s a picture of a computer (guess what he does for a living), and on the back was written the evening’s 6 course menu.
We started out with a champagne toast, served with “mises en bouche” (literally put in your mouth) which included cherry tomatoes, French radishes which are petite, mild and long instead of spicy and round like the ones I was used to seeing in the states, cubes of surimi (imitation crab) and cubes of flavored cheeses.
Next was the traditional foie gras on round toast, except this time it was sprinkled with a few red pepper corns. This combination of peppery and fatty, accompanied by a crisp sweet white wine, is one of the best flavor combinations I have ever tasted.
More champagne and a trio of appetizers: smoked salmon, stuffed tomato and prosciutto. At this point my host brothers started getting a bit rowdy and poking fun at each other. The Franco-Danish baby shared his cubed cheeses by passing them to everyone around the table. I turned to my husband, who was engrossed in a conversation in English with the Danish woman, and reminded him to pace himself, as we were only half way through the meal. The hostess kept refilling his champagne glass and smiling.
After a pause, we were served the plat principal: carré de veau et son accompagnement de légumes, rack of veal with a bouquet of green beans held together with a piece of prosciutto. Of course, red wine was poured into a third glass for this. I admit that I had a hard time finishing this one, although it was very tasty.
People seemed to be drunk and happy at this point. The volume increased and there was laughter all around. I couldn’t imagine more food, but there was the cheese the platter and the salad, staring at me from the middle of the table and daring me to try. I took a few leaves of salad but passed on the cheese. There was no more room.
It was now past one in the morning. Everything was hazy. I thought I was hallucinating when I heard more champagne being uncorked and dessert plates being passed around. There they were: a fruit cocktail, chocolate mousse and two different kinds of cake. For each person. I took a deep breath and managed a couple bites of the fruit and the mousse. That was it. I gave the cake discreetly to my husband. I was officially done. Amazingly, everyone around me kept eating and drinking. My host father made his way over and asked us when we were thinking of starting a family. I replied that there was already a food baby in my stomach.
Just after two thirty am my host family decided that it was time to go. I somehow got in a car and made it to bed. Before dropping us off, they reminded us that we had to be back at the host parent’s house by 11am the next day for Christmas, where we would do the whole thing over again.
To be continued…
How was your last Christmas in France?
© Jessica’s Franglais 2014