dimanche, décembre 25, 2005

C'est La Guerre

We decided to make FRENCH TOAST for Xmas Day (they call it pain perdu over here, I beleive). I wasn't sure which type of loaf would best take the eggs/vanilla concoction, (remember all the choices at Le Bon Marché, plus we have our local Paul...), so we bought four loaves. Four in one day. Ga-zow.

EUROCHINO, the Blog of Record when it comes to the coming and goings of Dear Wife, myself, and all of Paris (I'd like to think), wants to wish all of you a very Happy Holiday. I would guess the prevailing American thought about France and Xmas (if, indeed, any thought is given to this subject), is that this country of committed secularists must represent something like the Avant Garde for those forces alleged to be destroying Xmas, ("The War Against..." etc.). But not so. Apparently, France is not against Xmas at all: despite a Parisian unwillingness to really abandon themselves to massive credit-funded holiday spending (true locals are much too savvy for retail Xmas exhortations), there was evidence all around us that the holiday, in all its holiday-ness, is very much loved here. However, it is not loved in that uniquely American, out-sized, world-will-come-to-an-end-NOW-if-you-don't buy-in-and-BUY-THIS! sorta Xmas we inflict on each other in the 'States.

Maybe this faux fracas in the 'States stems from a deep-rooted belief in the transformative powers of the purchase, a power respected and integral to American life, and recently absorbed into the sacred nature of Xmas itself. Maybe Xmas has expanded into a celebration of this culture of consumption--not just in an obvious way, a corporate-mandated way, where you assume people are following commercial directives like mindless lemmings. No, I think that by assigning religious responsibilities to the retailers, (essentially giving them a religious mandate), people seek to strenghten this bond between a ritual of commercial activity and the actual meaning of the holiday. We like shopping, and we want to validate this emotion. If you can get upset that someone is trying to sell you a "Holiday Tree" and not a "Christmas Tree,"--and not just upset, but spiritually offended--aren't you saying you find the spiritual relevant to your purchases, and that you need them to cross-confirm? Because really, if you find the act of BUYING stuff for friends, family, and YOURSELF as spiritually rewarding as prayer and church-going (and I bet many people do, especially at Xmas-time), why wouldn't, you want to put a spiritual gloss onto the secular activity of shopping? Buying has become so much a part of the Xmas ritual, it now carries with it the same responsibility for exactitude, repetition and confirmation that any church service does.

In France, I imagine the seductions of transformation through the act of shopping has intrinsically less power here because people are not so interested in transforming. A chic person is a chic person and remains so, in a generally accepted, Franco-stylish way. The job is just to keep this up--much of France and French behaviour seems like it can be explained by the phrase, "keeping up appearances." Codes of behaviour and manner and dress exist for every strata of citizen here, from the low-rise jean-wearing, shag-haircut teens to the Grande Dames in their furs. In the U.S. there's always a little (or a lot) of pressure to be different, to redefine, to improve or expand. ("Maybe the look for me should be more Metrosexual Euro-Chic--but wait, maybe that looks too gay for me, maybe I should rough it up a little and ditch that town coat for an anorak...?") Here they are blessed with a cohesive national identity and a long-standing, easily identified culture, which keeps French people somewhat whole in a way that many Americans have a hard time equalling. We Americans have that continual responsibility--and pressure to completely invent (and keep reinventing) ourselves for our role (however small) on the American stage. French people are without this presssure, (their pressure may be to live up to what tthey are supposed to be), and are therefore able to escape a lot of the heavy significance shopping often holds for us. A man buys a coat here because it is appropriate to his role in society. A man buys a coat in the 'States because he imagines it helps exemplify the character and persona he wants to project.

Here in Paris, the only big battle is between retailers and their canny customers, who are always skeptical of everything, and esp. of the promises advertising and flashy aesthetics make.

Back home, the battle is for identity. And it's a war.

Here, it's just Xmas.

Hope you had a merry one.


At mercredi, décembre 28, 2005, Blogger rickart said...

Merry Christmas to you guys, too! FYI, you may want to check out a new blog... http://tuesdayartgroup.blogspot.com/
I can't take credit for starting it, but I've linked your blog to it, so you may see a few more friendly faces here once we get some of the old TAG group logging on over there. Did that make sense?


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