Certain celebratory names show that the French aren't messing around
The French, like most everyone, love an excuse to gather together with friends, eat and drink, give gifts, and celebrate special occasions.
Some of these festive gatherings are exactly like those in the United States. Children’s birthday parties, for example, don’t vary all that much….there’s the cake (ice cream is usually replaced by mounds of gummy crocodiles and other sweets). There’s the birthday song (that a lot of French families sing in French and English, ooh la la). And then there’s opening presents, playing, screaming, and the resulting mess to clean up afterwards. Really, an anniversaire at any age is celebrated somewhat similarly in France as it is stateside — from rowdy, drunken teenage parties to quick weeknight dinners for adults who want to forget their age.
Anniversaries — which are named anniversaires de mariage in French since they would otherwise share the same word with birthday — are essentially marked in the same manner as in the United States, as well. Gifts, a romantic dinner, maybe a weekend getaway…
But all other occasions seem different. Particularly when it comes to their name.
Take housewarming parties. In French, they are called une pendaison de crémaillère, which literally translates to the moment you hang your cauldron or trivet. In the olden days, when you moved into your quaint little French cottage (which maybe wasn’t that quaint and maybe you had to build it stone by stone), it wasn’t “home” until you got your big pot of soup ( or whatever you cook in a trivet) boiling over a fire that also likely kept you from freezing to death. Perhaps the term “housewarming” derives from this moment as well, when you’re finally settled in enough to light the fire and warm up your house. But the French term is, admittedly, much more visual.
The strangest thing about a crémaillère to me is that you rarely get a tour of your friends’ new house. It’s not out of the question… but oftentimes, housewarming in France is to let your friends know where you live, rather than show them. A room-to-room tour where you explain the function of every room and how/if you decided to decorate it in any specific way is considered somewhat anglo-saxon. And asking how much someone pays in rent or how much they bought a home for is usually considered rude. So if you’re invited to a pendaison de crémaillère, bring something nice to drink, maybe a little houseplant, and let your hosts guide the conversation toward (or away from) their new digs.
Before I move onto a truly strange and tongue-twisting celebration, I want to briefly mention that showers are a bit taboo in French, as well. No, not those showers, despite the silliest French stereotype ever. I’m talking about baby showers, bridal showers, and so on. Any sort of party where you buy a gift for a baby who hasn’t been born yet or give a wedding present to a couple before the actual wedding is considered bad luck. It’s quite literally counting your chickens before they hatch. For the truly superstitious, you’re not even supposed to wish someone a happy birthday before the actual day. If you want to do it right for a friend, throw their baby shower a few weeks or a month after the baby arrives (that way, everyone gets to see the baby), or give them their wedding present at the actual wedding. And bridal showers where you buy your friend risqué lingerie? Too anglo-saxon once again, so save it for the bachelorette party.
Ah, the bachelorette party. Let’s dive into one of the weirdest French phrases and experiences ever.
(I should note here that I won’t be dealing with bachelor parties because, thankfully, I have no idea what goes on at a Frenchman or any other man’s bachelor party. And I never really want to know because my brain couldn’t handle it. I think French men head off to Amsterdam, Prague, or Ibiza, the European equivalent of going to Vegas, and then debauchery follows.)
In French, bachelorette party is called — are you ready? — un enterrement de vie de jeune fille. Translation? The burial of the life of a young lady. THE BURIAL. Bachelor party is, naturally, un enterrement de vie de garçon, burial of a boy’s life.
The name would indicate that the French aren’t messing around. But, truth be told, the burial aspect is less important than the vie de jeune fille part. Because, for some reason, French women turn into pre-teen girls at a traditional bachelorette party. First of all, they wear costumes. I’ve seen Snow White, Cinderella, and all the Disney princesses parading tipsily around Paris with a flock of girls following behind them on several occasions. If the bride-to-be is not in a formal costume, then they’ll don bits and pieces that look like they come from a little girl’s dress-up box — feather boas, oversized sunglasses, princess crowns, or tails. The idea is to look ridiculous (instead of, say, ridiculously hot).
Then there are the activities. Like their American and British sisters, many French ladies have turned bachelorette parties into bachelorette weekends where everyone is expected to fly or take a train to a destination and partake in several days worth of spa treatments, yoga classes, and all-night parties. But on the big night of celebration in France, get ready to play truth or dare. Or just dare. I’ve been to les enterrements where the bride-to-be has been ordered to kiss strangers, ask to drive a bus, or stand on a crowded bar and sing. Again, the idea is to look ridiculous, and, in these instances, mission accomplished.
I guess the idea is that you can’t wait to bury your young-lady life and settle into domesticated married life after completely humiliating yourself.
The truth is, there are probably American bachelor and bachelorette parties that do the same. And there are likely French women who would never dream of dressing up as Snow White and asking tourists leaving the line at the Eiffel Tower to kiss her. As always, there’s no right or wrong way to celebrate. But the best way to enjoy it is likely to sit back, relax, and have a laugh (at the odd name, if nothing else).