Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Joyeux Anniversaire vs. Happy Birthday

       



         Ed. Note: Before I explain the headline of this post, please let me apologize for my extended absence. I fully intend to get back on my regular schedule because I just plain like "conversing" with you and miss not writing regularly.  

          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.
       

31 comments:

Rose said...

How civilised of France re birthdays, maybe I should go there for my 60th next year. I detest the fuss made of childrens' and adults' birthddays, a simple dinner is so much nicer and less likely to end in tears.

Anonymous said...

Hi Tish, Last summer I was in Paris with on vacation with my family. We spent a Sunday afternoon in the Jardin de Luxembourg and I had the chance to observe a birthday party for a little boy who turned 1 year old. I was struck by how low key the party was, how simple and healthy the snacks were and what a lovely time the guests were having sitting on blankets on the grass on a beautiful summer afternoon. The birthday boy received thoughtful but not extravagant gifts, and everyone had fun being together. It was so different from the parties I had for my boys on their first birthdays, and I left wishing our birthday celebrations were more like the party I observed in Paris. It was clear that the most important thing was to be together with friends and family enjoying each other's company, and showing a little boy he is loved. I learned something that day!

Maria Norcia Santillanes said...

I agree about completely about the over the top birthday parties held here in the states and I do my best to avoid attending. Your description of the French version brought memories of when I was young. As Italians we similarly celebrated with a lunch or dinner, family members and maybe a few very close friends. There was good food and a special present, it was all quite simple and it is how I celebrate my child's birthday still.
I would love to read more about the differences.
~M

Marsha Splenderosa said...

When in Rome......

LPC said...

I'm gonna agree. When in Rome. There are so many ways to do so many things:).

Josephine Chicatanyage said...

I so agree with this. My daughter is finding it very challenging and expensive with 2 small boys and all these elaborate and expensive parties.
I offered to organise a party for my husbands 60th recently but we decided to have a 5 day holiday in Morocco together instead and it was magical.

Erika said...

I've also heard that tines are down so lace cuffs don't get caught in them.

Erika said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I knew there were reasons I loved France...here's another one!!

webb said...

Birthdays in the U.S. are both over the top and inappropriate - age-wise of all things. My friends struggle with what to do as their 6-year olds are going to bowling parties or 10-year olds to spa days for other children. It's one more way to show off how much money we have (or would like to have) and to push our children to grow up too fast.

I love the French way. Hubby and I have done that for year ... but didn't know it!

ELS said...

I am just cock-a-hoop that someone is still using the word 'tines.'

Birthdays should be about cake. Home-made and lights out for the glowing candles which knock decades off.


Safe trip home

Heather Robinson said...

I will admit, with a touch of embarrassment that when I first moved to France, I was shocked that my Honey didn't have the similar "enthusiasm" for celebrating birthdays. Mine, especially! ;) Now, things have changed entirely and all I want is a nice day together with a home-cooked meal and maybe a bit of champers at the end of it...

Holly Boyle said...

Welcome back! I have missed your posts but glad you took a small break to enjoy and refresh, even though you were working. Looking forward to more insights and tricks of French women. I have tried many and some are now part of my regimen. Safe journey! xx-hb

Virginia said...

Your post described how we celebrate our birthdays. My sons' birthdays are in late August and late October. For the summer birthday, we are usually at the beach, followed by a cake. The October boy gets to invite two best friends to a local Halloween event. While my boys have always enjoyed their family/close friends only parties, I've always felt a little guilty, especially when attending one of the birthday-extravaganzas. Thank you for helping me realize that we have NOT been depriving our boys, but teaching them that special days can be celebrated simply, yet joyfully.

Cornelia said...

It is the same in Germany, where the 'round' birthdays are marked, while anything in between is a low key affair. Imagine my surprise when I thought I could get away with a simple affair celebrating my eldest child's first birthday. My good friend at the time invited a clown for her daughter's first birthday a week earlier. :)) Stuck to my guns though.

therelishedroost said...

Enjoy your special day!!!

Sue said...

It's very similar here in Spain. Our best Spanish friend usually celebrates her actual birthday just with her family. However she and her husband invite the two of us, plus her sister-in-law and husband, for an evening out the following Friday, which they pay for. Spanish people don't give birthday cards if they see people on their birthdays, however they do give small presents.

Jacqui said...

How about bridal showers? engagement parties? baby showers? Curious if those are occasions in France/Paris as well.

D. A. Wolf said...

As a single mother with a very "skinny" budget for many years, it was always challenging to deal with birthdays for my boys. We never came close to the sorts of affairs that many of their friends had - and I never wanted to. So when they were younger, there were more scaled down (but still festive) celebrations to the extent that I was able, and a very personal tradition for my boys (and my boys for me) that cost nothing and always gave me great joy - a matter of balloons, and now a source of infinite teasing.

I am very much in favor of the more intimate (and less competitive) gathering - for children or adults.

It's about essentials.

Emm said...

The tines-up-tines-down question sent me off into the depths of the web, where a number of comments/answers cited your idea that setting tines down allows display of any hallmarks.

Also, this intriguing little sociological explanation of tableware:
"In the US, forks were not commonly used until well after the revolutionary war. They were a considered a British upper-class invention and shunned by Continental Americans because it was TOO bourgeois! People ate with just a knife and spoon, and when you went to dinner at a "common person's" home, you brought your own silverware and sometimes even your own plate."

Thank goodness we don't have to bring our own plates anymore -- although maybe that's where potluck suppers originated.

Tish Jett said...

It's so nice to be back with you again. I love your information on "tines" -- getting caught in lace cuffs(!) -- who would have thought?

How funny that forks were once considered bourgeois. Love it!

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with the birthday thing. After having to deal with awkward invitations throughout my 3 daughters growing up years now my youngest (25) is faced with invitations from these same over-indulged "children" who plan their own birthday parties at expensive city restaurants and expect the "guests" to foot the bill. I think she learned her lesson when she attended an event that ended up costing her over $200. And this was for brunch!

Carol said...

Growing up, my birthdays were always low-key. It involved dinner at home, homemade cake and my grandparents. Only twice did I have a party that I could invite some friends to, one a sleep over. Even those were very low key by today's standards. Probably why I still prefer not much fuss.

I raised my son the same way and he prefers a quiet birthday as well. His father, on the other hand (my ex) thinks his own birthdays should be a national holiday.

Julia said...

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Elracodeldetall.blogspot.com

Elizabeth Eiffel said...

The family being together on birthdays and Christmas is the only and best present we share with each other. Gifts were cut out of our family tradition long ago. However, children who are under 18 exchange one gift with each other at Christmas time with a price limit of under $50.

After ordering Forever Chic from the USA son 25 February, it finally arrive 2 days ago and I couldn't stop reading it. Absolutely fabulous - love your writing style. It's a MUST HAVE in every woman's home (unless one is French). Warm regards

jameurope Smith said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sandy Jones said...

Love Forever Chic! Adore small intimate birthdays. Will be interested in my daughter's first birthday for her new baby boy. What will it be like?

Anonymous said...

Another book? Fabulous!! Can't wait. LOVE Forever Chic....Patricia, Minneapolis

Tish Jett said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you. It is so strange, writing a book. You think it's a good idea, but then you're not sure anyone else will agree with you. You assume your family and close friends will be enthusiastic -- no matter what they really think because they care about you. But when you write and tell me that you enjoyed Forever Chic it means the world to me. You cannot imagine.

Merci mille fois.

Lara Scott said...

Tish, congrats on your new book proposal. Whatever the book is, I'll be getting it as soon as it comes out.

Karena Albert said...

Tish I am so excited to hear you are working on another book, Bravo!!

I admit I like my own birthdays to be low keyed, others though can celebrate to the nth!

xoxo
Karena
Artist William Glackens

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