Monday, December 8, 2014

A vin chaud-less French Christmas Market.

I hope you gasped when you read the title of this post. You should have gasped. If you didn't, you still have time. Go ahead, I'll wait...

This weekend of French Christmas markets has been a bit of a fiasco of sorts. I know I need to listen to my own advice and expect the unexpected, from the St. Jean de Gonville market closing much earlier than posted online, to Sunday's weird time spent at the Thoiry Christmas Market, but let's just say I'm an optimist. 

We started Sunday morning at the Thoiry market, a usual occurrence that really doesn't offer up too many surprises on a weekly basis, of which I'm thankful. Pere Noel did make an appearance, much to our grumpy child's non-amusement. We were all given bonbons for being such good girls and boys this year, finished up our weekly shopping and headed down to the salle de fete for the Christmas market. 

Being an optimist, I was overjoyed to see the festive lights outside. "They're really doing it up this year!" I said to Dan. We took a few pictures outside the light setup, complete with fake chalet front, and hurried in to get some vin chaud to warm our chilly selves. As we stood in line for vin chaud I noticed that it was the most crowded I had remembered seeing it. My spirits were high. It never seems crowded at our town's little Christmas market, so it made my heart happy to see so many people shopping. 

"They're out of vin chaud." an exasperated Dan told me. 

"Say quoi?"

How can a French Christmas market be out of vin chaud? And it wasn't just vin chaud, but all beer and wine as well. I'm pretty sure that's illegal in France. This may not seem like a big deal to some, but this is UNHEARD of here. UNHEARD OF! Neither of us could wrap our heads around it. They always have an assortment of beer, wine, vin chaud, etc., complete with the option of a small plate of frites or even a full meal, and now all they could offer us were cookies, eau gazeuse or instant coffee. 

(Let's not even talk about the instant coffee. I might cry.)

We weren't the only ones completely scandalized. The apiarist who sells Thoiry Honey left his stand to grab a glass of wine at the buvette, and the pre-adolescent running the bar said there was none. "Well what am I supposed to drink?!" exclaimed the gentlemen in French. Exactly monsieur, exactly.

So we drank our instant coffee as fast as we could, (because it was the only way to get it down), and perused the vendors wares. First stop as always, a jar of honey from our fellow thirsty friend. And this is the part of the story where I get to impart some wisdom from hard earned experience: if you see something you want while shopping in France, buy it immediately. Buy it, put it in your bag, and be gone. Otherwise it will most likely be gone forever. I'm not even joking. 

Case in point: the vin chaud disaster. It seems that here in France, the supply and demand economic system does not apply. For years we've scoffed at how once the fans sell out in June, no more will be available until the following summer. If you inquire as to why, the baffled Migros salesperson will look at you like you have three heads and say "because we don't have anymore." The same goes for a brand of tea that I really enjoy, one that was only offered by one store locally, and was only ordered once a year...because why would anyone drink tea in the spring or summer? Today the vin chaud ran out at the Christmas market around noon. No more would be made, despite the people coming into the market from the cold outdoor market. Thirsty, cold people. It doesn't matter. When it's gone, it's gone.  This has happened so many times to us: from fans in the early days of summer to matching plates that I buy two at a time, if you don't buy everything you need at once, you'll very possibly be left with an incomplete set or without a fan to cool your un-airconditioned house in July. 

So where does the honey fit into this scenario? Well, we wanted a particular honey, one that he was out of, save for the jar that was out for tasting. After a minute or two of friendly banter he decided to sell us one that he had already sold, and that he was holding for the buyer to come back and pick up. He removed it from their shopping bag of several honey jars, and sold it to us. He assured us that the buyer lived close by and that he would replace theirs. I have no doubt he will, but again: nothing is truly yours until it's in your home. Funny right? It works here, but when you come from a place that is not like that, it can be hard to grasp. 

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not hating on France. I could never ever do that. But sometimes the cultural differences need to be pointed out, and celebrated, through baffled laughter. This weekend has had a whole lot of baffled laughter. It's part of the fun of being an expat, and of travel in general. To see how others live and to really feel how different cultures work on a day to day basis helps to tame the ego-ism that one can feel for their home country, as well as teach you to be flexible when visiting others. And to be fair, we've been gone from the United States long enough that we have plenty of baffled laughter when we makes trips back. Stores that are open 24 hours on SUNDAYS? I don't believe you! It's simply not possible!

We didn't spend too much time at the market this year. Oswin was a bit grumpy and we had groceries to get back home, but we picked up some chocolates and three little wooden ornaments before we left. Aside from the buvette blunder it was a nice little market, but over the years it has become more of a craft market than a Christmas market. There were jewelry makers and crochet hats and chocolatiers, but the ornaments we purchased were really the only ones available. Today really solidified for me that the Thoiry Christmas Market really falls into the category of markets that you should not plan a vacation around, but if you happen to be shopping at the Thoiry Sunday Market that day, it's a nice little detour before heading home. 

What's next for us as far as Christmas Markets are concerned? We head to Freiburg on Wednesday for my favorite Christmas market of them all, and I can't wait! We haven't done a road trip since our summer trip to Italy, and I'm itching to hit the road with my little family. Wednesday can't come soon enough!

A la prochaine friend...


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