There are few interesting things about experiencing the Fall in a different place. America’s autumn is marked by pumpkin, Halloween, Thanksgiving, football, harvest festivals and all they include (corn mazes, apples, hay bales, etc.). In France, automne has chestnuts, amazing winter scarves, mushrooms (especially in the rainy north), and delicious creamy soups. Both have apples and squash, thank goodness!
In France, Halloween is celebrated a bit…. although I don’t think they really understand the idea. In supermarkets, you can find a small costume section, some candy, and carving pumpkins. They have themed nights at clubs and bars, but that is about the extent of the celebration here. The French do not understand trick-or-treating. Which, when you really think about it, trick-or-treating is really strange. Also, in order for trick-or-treating to be common, a lot of people need to participate. Obviously, that works in America because it is an established tradition, but here, I’m not even sure where people would go if they wanted to take their kids trick-or-treating.
I took it upon myself to introduce my Chinese roommates to American Halloween traditions. They dress up for Halloween parties, etc. in China, but didn’t really know about pumpkin carving and trick-or-treating. So I made them carve a pumpkin and then force-fed them roasted pumpkin seeds and pumpkin bread. I think they think I’m crazy. But I did catch them taking about a million pictures of their pumpkin later, so I mean how crazy can I really be?
You can’t buy canned pumpkin puree here, so I’ve had to make my own in order to really be in the Fall spirit. They serve a pumpkin soup in my school’s cafeteria sometimes, but in general, pumpkin isn’t a common flavor here. So I get my fill each morning with a bit of pumpkin oatmeal. So good. And I’m having a vegetable for breakfast! Love it. I’ve decided that the French version of pumpkin is chestnuts (marrons). They love them. Chestnut paste, chestnut tarts, chestnut cremes, chestnut soups, chestnuts everywhere!
Thanksgiving is, obviously, not celebrated in France. There are two main impacts this has on the Fall. Firstly, the food in a grocery store is different. Good luck finding a turkey, because turkey is really only eaten at Christmas here. Similarly, it is difficult or impossible to find yams, pumpkin puree, and cranberries/cranberry sauce. Secondly, there is nothing to mark the start of the Christmas season. In the States, Christmas is nicely contained by Thanksgiving and New Years. Obviously, in the interest of capitalism these limits are not always observed. Nonetheless, it is known when the Christmas season officially starts – the day after Thanksgiving. Without Thanksgiving, Christmas starts so early! It’s November 6th, and there have been Christmas decorations at the local mall for a week. The stores have had Christmas decorations for weeks. The Christmas market is getting set up (!!!).
One last observation on Fall is the lack of evergreens here. Lille has a similar climate to Portland, but doesn’t have big evergreen forests. There actually just aren’t a lot of evergeens. I miss the Douglas Firs! But for the moment, this means all the trees are changing color and altogether, they look beautiful. I’m not looking forward to a dreary, barren winter, once all the leaves are gone. For now, though, it is nice 🙂