In fact, I have been writing regularly, but in silence and secret. For the last couple of weeks — and I’m not quite finished — I’ve been working on my new book proposal. It needs polishing and tweaking before I dare show it to anyone. I think it’s a good idea, but one never knows. . .
OK, back to birthdays. Lisa Richey, an etiquette expert (she was responsible for two of my book signing events in Florida), and I were having a conversation about the differences in manners and mores in France and the United States. (Lisa, btw, will be writing here from time-to-time.)
She posed all sorts of questions and wondered whether I had explanations for some of the differences she didn’t really understand because they had nothing to do with universally accepted definitions of “good manners.” One was the placement of forks at table. In France she knew that the tines are placed down, toward the table, but she didn’t know why. I’ve heard and read two reasons for the position:
|Tines up vs. tines down.|
By putting the fork “face down” the silver stamps are in plain view, thus providing a certain provenance and perhaps the epoch in which the pieces were forged. History, after all, is everything in France.
The other, rather bizarre explanation, someone told me was that tines up are aggressive, tines down are not. Interesting n’est ce pas?
We covered a lot of territory over dinner one night — everything from wine pouring and thank you notes to hostess gifts and entertaining. “What do the French do to celebrate birthdays, particularly children’s parties?” Lisa asked.
My first thought was, “Almost nothing.” When I checked in with Andrea, she concurred. Her last “real” birthday party with lots of friends, cake, presents, games was in Pound Ridge, NY, when she was seven. We moved to France the next year.
|It’s a cake! Talk about “low-key” birthday celebrations. . . Everything (except the chain) is edible in this sweet indulgence from Sugar Shack.|
Please don’t misunderstand, those momentous occasions do not pass un-commemorated, but with few exceptions they are celebrated en famille and perhaps with a couple of friends. Competitive birthday parties with clowns, music, special effects, games, excursions and extravagant gifts are simply not part of bringing up bebe. Andrea was always invited to her best friends’ homes, usually a Sunday lunch, to mark the date. Those luncheons were at the same table with parents, brothers and sisters (where that applied), and sometimes godparents and grandparents. That’s how she celebrated her birthdays.
They are intimate, warm and low-key. They do include gifts and a cake, probably no candles. “Happy Birthday” may or may not be sung.
As for adults, and My-Reason-For-Living-In-France (MRFLIF) confirmed my impression, the day is celebrated similarly with the occasional exception for “big birthdays.” My best French friend threw a sumptuous dinner party for her husband on the occasion of his 60th anniversarie.
One year I wanted to give MRFLIF a party. He begged me not to. Of course I didn’t. Instead we went into Paris and had a divine dinner. He even offered to give me a birthday present because, as he says every year on March 4 and Christmas: “I don’t need anything and I can’t think of anything I want other than being together. If Andrea and Will and now Ella Madeleine are with us, all the better.”
Being together seems to be the theme of birthdays in France.