November 1, 2007

Slow Learners


Somehow we have lived in France for four years and yet last night was our first halloween here.
It seems that the occasion always coincides with the school vacation of Toussaint or All Saints Day,
And that usually finds us off exploring some corner of our adopted country. This year we stayed still.
We are still processing what we learned last night.

The preparation was great. Halloween is considered an "American Holiday". Like Americans, it is welcomed by many, and disregarded by some. But everyone is curious. The stores, which have a euro to make, happily sell crappy costumes, glow in the dark "scream" masks a plenty, commando fare, melting latex faces and the occasional politician. They sell candy, make-up, devil horns and flashlights. They don't carve pumpkins. They know about it, and a few efforts are made, but like good corn they don't have a variety of pumpkin which is really empty enough to carve well. And pumpkin is a food here. Carving up a pupmkin and putting it out on the curb, would be a waste, something akin to bobbing for apples or maybe driving an SUV. So, as Americans we decided to waste some food and teach some French kids just how to do it too. Our first was a classic jagged edged mouth jack-o-lantern, the second was a very modern, power tool assist, work of modern pumpkin art. Very successful!

The strange part came next, the art of the "trick or treat".
First, the French use shutters, so you can't even tell if people are home or not.
Second, easily a third of the population has never heard of Haloween.
Then a third didn't follow the invitation of the grocery stores to stock up on candy.
Then the kids don't have a handy catch-phrase like our "trick or treat?" They just blurt out in frustration "bon-bons"
People in there earnest efforts found things to give the kids. Oscar almost got an i-pod from one confused household. Friends handed out candied Ginger, bags of potato chips, oriental party mix, and the pharmacist gave bags of throat lozengers!
We had the norm, plus we took advantage of the innocence of an untainted occasion and also had home baked chocolate chip cookies.
It was a cold night and our fellow Martelaise would take there time in answering the door, thinking "surely that wasn't a knock at the door on the 31st of October!?" Eventually someone would turn on a light, open the door and ask what was up? Once they were reminded why there were a handfull of kids dressed up as ugly creatures (candy!) they usually rallied. Once a confused doctor said he'd run out to his car, because he had some candy there. Everyone was pleasant and came around and the kids were wonderfully appreciative and solicitous, after all, it's free candy and it's new, so there is no sense of entitlement. Wait till next year!

Next Year???? I suppose if we can manage to be in town again then we might need to have a party and be a bit more proactive in sharing the wisdom of this "American Holiday". We have a unique opportunity to shape the meaning of the occasion.
Costume contest?
Pumpkin contest?
Haunted House?
Scary music???
If they won't come to us (and only a couple dozen ever rang the bell) then perhaps we will bring it to them and get a few more Martel kids to dunk their heads in a tub of cold water on a cold night to grab an apple when there is tons of better candy around.
But they love it!

Halloween is right on the edge now. We are, for the most part, on good behaviour here, the idea of roaming the village and surprising people by asking for food is strange. So we, as parents, stood far behind, well disguised as a large green bird, and made certain that enough merci's were offered and that no-one got left behind or scared by barking dogs. Halloween is slow in coming here, it doesn't make much sense to the French, but we're doing our best to translate!
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