Our French Story #5: The Year New Year’s Eve Came Early
A New Year’s Eve Party is always on New Year’s Eve isn’t it? Are you sure? Read on…
Now you have to understand it was the very first time we stayed at our house in Brittany, and actually, in France at all. After three weeks of busy renovating, furniture assembling and gardening we were exhausted. We’d been to French department stores, French hardware stores, French supermarkets and had learned to accept that things were very different in France and while everything was possible, it all just took much longer.
After these three weeks our home was more or less ready to receive its first guests; there were beds with bed linen to sleep in, crockery, cutlery and cooking utensils to prepare meals with,whitegoods installed and personal touches added to make our house a home. So with much excitement we ‘opened our doors’ and welcomed our first guests from Australia and then a few days later we said ‘bonjour’ to our second entourage of guests. So with a house bursting with visitors we cooked for a multitude, continued with the smaller renovating projects and went sightseeing. We completed our work only days before New Year’s Eve, exhausted but looking forward to celebrating this occasion with our fellow villagers at the local salle des fêtes (village hall). So tell me later whether you think this is a valid excuse or whether we were just plain silly. I’ll leave you to decide.
First of all, you have to question our information source, Christophe, the bartender of our local Tabac. Christophe, was routinely very woozy from the night before which never quite wore off because by 10am of the next day he had already had another few by way of a combination of sampling the goods and keeping customers happy by having a drink with them. I hear you say, that’s a wee bit early to start drinking, but by 10am the postie has had a friendly drink, the retired farmers have popped in to say “bonjour” and have a friendly drink, the local ladies have popped in to get their fresh baguette and, you guessed it, have a friendly drink so if you are keeping them company by having a drink yourself, you’ve had a few!
French New Years Celebrations
So, when Christophe tells us of the village New Year’s Eve Party that he and his mother have been elected to cater for, we were eager to find out the details and integrate into our very new community. However, getting a straight answer from Christophe, at any time, was quite difficult taking into account his limited English, our haphazard French, and as expanded above – his perpetual happy state.
He informs us that the party will take place on the night of the 26th. This came as a surprise to say the least. What is the point of holding a New Year’s Eve party on the 26th? After debate we thought that maybe because the 26th was a Saturday and the 31st was mid-week Thursday, the village had decided that a weekend party made more sense. Maybe Saturday suited the villagers and they would celebrate locally on the 26th and then celebrate elsewhere on New Year’s Eve. We further rationaled it: France is just different; maybe two celebrations is the norm; I’m sure they wouldn’t tell us something wrong, they like us; and, they’ve taken our money for the tickets so they have to have given us all the correct info.
On the night of the 26th we feed the children, told them we’d be over at the salle des fêtes in the village and home no later than 1 am. We dressed in our finery (my husband and I and our remaining guests), spent judicious time in front of the bathroom mirror and even had a pre-evening drink in front of the fireplace to celebrate the occasion. Feeling quite the part with the men of the household in suits and us women in evening dresses, we set out for our party.
There was a fresh fall of snow underfoot and a crisp breeze that caught at our coats as we walked to the village hall. Surrounded by a deep darkness only occasionally interrupted by street lamps we wandered down the main street to the hall. With the hall black, unoccupied and no-one around we went looking for another hall. No luck, so seeing a light on in the Mairie’s office we hurried across to his building. My girlfriend Amber and I sent Paul and Michael in to talk to the men we could see silhouetted against the office light in the uncovered window to find out where we should be headed.
The occupants who were conducting a town meeting got their message across clearly enough that indeed New Year’s Eve celebrations happened on New Year’s Eve. They sympathetically told the guys they had got the date wrong. I can honestly say feeling stupid in a foreign country feels exactly the same as feeling stupid in your home country.
Stupid with a capital ‘S’ !!
You know that saying all dressed up and nowhere to go, well, that was totally us. After the walk back to the house with a subdued step, the breeze more biting than before and the snow more wet, we told the kids we were going to make the most of the evening and find somewhere to go out. In the car, with the folded map opened wide, we headed to village after village until we eventually found a bar still open. We struck gold in Moncontour where the lights still shone behind the foggy glass of Bar Le Contre Temps. We were later to laugh at the irony of ending up at the old-fashioned but cosy bar named Le Contre Temps, otherwise known in English as The Against Time bar.
Totally over dressed but with heads held high we waltzed in as if we go dressed like this to every little bar in every little village in rural France late at night and ordered hot cheese sandwiches and port. Now feeling satiated, warm in the belly (from all the port) and slightly less silly (probably that port again) we enjoyed the company of the chatty barman who, probably speaking Breton, was up for a conversation – even if all we did was smile, gesticulate and add a French word or two, here and there. His well feed purring cat strutted back and forth along his bar top only slowing down to carefully side-step the beer taps and give us the ‘eye’.
For the children they got a night of home movies, popcorn and chips, for us, we had the joy of two New Year’s Eves.
Only in France. And only once, did we EVER make that mistake!
À bientôt and
from me and my team. May the New Year bring you happiness, health and contentment …
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