Halloween: It’s Not Very French

Pumpkin carving kit: $10

Three medium sized pumpkins: $24

Bottle of Wine: $15

A torrent of criticism and advice on how best to carve a jack-o-lantern from my French in-laws who have NEVER IN THEIR LIVES carved a jack-o-lantern: Freaking priceless.

So, my mother-in-law and father-in-law are in town. The French don’t really do Halloween, so this is their first experience with a real one. They are both perplexed and fascinated by the whole thing. When I explained that our 2-year-old would be Thing 1 and our 5-month-old Thing 2, I was met with blank looks from them. Dr. Seuss doesn’t really translate, so they’d never heard of him. My husband is dressing up as the Cat in the Hat, and he brillantly suggested I dress up as the red box the two Things came out of. Pretty sure my in-laws now think that both I and this holiday are just plain bizarre.

We thought it would be fun to carve our pumpkins with them. So after the kids were in bed, we set the pumpkins and knives on the back patio. Before my husband and I could get out there with the wine, they’d already lopped the bottom off one of the pumpkins.

“C’est comme ça, non?”

Umm, no. That’s not quite how it works.

We tried to tell them and show them how to carve a pumpkin, but were met with a deluge of, “But, why?” and “No, it would be better this way” and, from my always-on-the-edge-of-full-blown-panic mother-in-law: “Oh! Careful! Oh! You’ll cut off your finger! You’ll stab yourself! Oh! Mon Dieu! Oh lo lo!  This is a dangerous holiday!” (all in French, of course.)

In the end, they had to admit that the American of the group (moi) might know a thing or two about fashioning a jack-o-lantern. My father-in-law suggested that the test to become a U.S. citizen should include a demonstration in carving pumpkins. Not a bad idea. Perhaps more practical, considering the number of U.S. citizens who wouldn’t pass the Naturalization Test.

When I was in Paris in a French language immersion program, an entire three days’ worth of lessons were devoted to “giving an opinion.” Because the French do it All. The. Time. Regardless of whether or not the opinion was wanted or asked for. There are about a million different ways to begin a sentence that will end with some sort of proclamation of opinion. Sure, we have some ways in English, too: “In my opinion…”, “I believe that…”, “I agree/disagree that….” But the French are notorious for spouting off their thoughts, and they have plenty of options for how to do it. My American friends, here in southern California anyway, tend to not be quite so vocal with every single one of their opinions. It’s a mixed bag, I guess. Sometimes it’s good to say what’s on your mind, and other times, not so much.

We ended up with three pretty decent jack-o-lanterns. My in-laws will be over tonight to experience Trick or Treating. They asked what they could bring for dinner, and we said pumpkin pie. My mother-in-law wondered where to get it, if she’d need to go to a specialty store, and then worried that no one in the store would know what one was if she asked. “Has anyone out there heard of this kind of pie? Really, people eat that?” She practiced saying it over and over: “Pump-kin Pie! Pump-kin Pie!” in her thick as concrete French accent. It’ll be interesting to see what they end up bringing over tonight.

Francophile, Francophobe

I love the French.

I hate the French.

I married a Frenchman. I love him very much. Though sometimes he can be so… French. He’s also an engineer. Jury is still out on which of these characteristics makes life more difficult. Or more beautiful.

Now we have two kids, so that makes them half French and half American. I’m on a mission to make sure they get the best half of each.

We are a bicultural, bilingual household, journeying through life armed with a French-English dictionary, a healthy dose of humor, and knowledge of where to find the best bread wherever we go.

On the surface, our cultures seemed to have much in common. After all, we’re both of the modern, westernized world, right? Sure, the French get more vacation than we do and can’t comprehend our obsession with football, while we think stinky cheese is something that belongs in the garbage and roll our eyes when we hear about another strike in France.

Turns out the differences go much deeper than that.

I’m going to blog so that I don’t have to pay for therapy.