vendredi, décembre 16, 2005

Tis the Season

I've mentioned before the similarities between the French and the Japanese, and while I've never lived in Japan, I stand by my assertion that the two cultures share a fondness for useless, strange, and totally inappropriate gifts.

Take for example the recent issue of "A Nous Paris", a free newspaper distributed in métro stations all over the city, whose current issue features gift ideas for the holiday season. Some of them were cool, but most were simply trendy superficial things you were supposed to want so you could be à la mode. (Meaning 'in style' in French, not 'with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side', in case you were confused.)

So, if you were a trendy Parisienne, you were encouraged to buy for the loved ones on your list:

Um, yeah. An "I'm Happy Weirdo" robot.

Doesn't that just scream weird Japanese teenage girl?

And then there is the real pearl of a gift you can be proud to offer to anyone on your list. Described as 'very original' and 'irresistible', it's the ....... drum roll, please........

'Gangsta' oven mitt

Perfect for all those epicureans who don't have room for a lawn jockey. Ahh, racism. The gift that keeps on giving.

Seriously, folks, check that shit out. How irresistibly original! Use this to pull out that casserole from the oven. Wear it with pride as your serve your guests the holiday dishes you prepared from the recipes in the back of "Marie Claire." I mean, really.

Joyeuses Fetes and Happy Holidays from the land of liberte, egalite and fraternite!

jeudi, décembre 01, 2005

Punch Bowl

I threw my first party in Paris last Saturday. The reasons were twofold : my best friend is leaving to do a PhD abroad, and it's December and I wanted some egg nog.

Since I am the way I am, serving the same cocktail to over 4o guests, I was thinking : PUNCH BOWL. It seemed only natural, and so a propos.

Much to my surprise, what in some circles back home is a standard item to be included on wedding registries is quite old fashioned here in Old Europe.

I started by searching on the web. When you have no car and getting from point A to point B takes at least thirty minutes on the metro, you sort of want to make sure the store has the item before you make the effort of going there and lugging it all the way back home.

My first couple of searches got me this:

Gee, serving egg nog in this Imperial Russian, um, soup tureen (?) sure would add a special touch to the party, now wouldn't it?

or this:

Good old M37A here sure is a pretty old punch bowl, but she's a wee bit expensive for what I had in mind. Antiques are pesky like that.

And this set, on sale on Ebay for a mere 600 dollars, is, well, just, well... Yikes. Blue?

So I decide to go the Huckabee's like "everything store" here in Paris, the BHV, thinking if they don't have a punch bowl, no one will. BHV is an experience. It gives the idea of personal space entirely new boundaries.

But when I asked a sales clerk I managed to find lurking in a remote kitchenware corner if they had any punch bowls, I got that Gallic widening of the eyes and lower lip thrust that means something akin to, "No clue, lady." Turns out, in Paris, they call them 'salad bowls with a soup ladle.'

This got me curious. Why would something that was a regular feature of birthday parties, wedding showers, holiday celebrations and office parties back in the good old South of the US of A be totally obsolete here?

And I realized it totally depends on how you colonize your territories.

See, here in France, the word "punch" is indelibly linked to rum - rum from Guadaloupe or Martinique, both former French colonies. A "p'ti punch" is a drink made from rum, sugar and lime juice. None of this fruit juice, 7Up and lime sherbet for the kiddies, thank you.

Which got me thinking again. Where did the word "punch" come from?

Turns out, kids, that the word "punch" comes from the Hindi word for "five" - panc - designating a drink made from arrak, tea, sugar, lemon and water. (A must-try for a future party, methinks.) This concoction was brought back to England by sailors with the British East India Company. The better explanation for its prevalence in the New World, however, seems to me to be from German immigrants, who drank something called "punsch" made from several fruit juices and spices, often with liquor or wine added.

The party, by the way, was a blast. It was a nice mix of people, and not everyone showed up at the same time, so space was never a problem. I'll definitely be throwing many more in the future.

But just a warning for those of you who will be attending American holiday parties with punch bowls present:

egg nog + champagne = bleah.