How to Halloween in Europe

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In the United States, decorations for every holiday imaginable pop onto store shelves weeks or months ahead of the intended date. Towards the end of September, I’m already stalking the aisles of Target, ogling sparkly pumpkins and other Halloween goodies. I’m also the only person in my family to be able to stomach candy pumpkins. One of my favourite snacks is diet coke and candy corn. Yes, I am aware that this is not normal.

Being in France has put an abrupt end to many of my Halloween festivities. No more pound bags of Brach’s candy corn and candy pumpkins, no more miles of fake spider webs decorating my neighbour’s porch. Oh wait, we don’t have a porch anymore, we have a stoop.

Halloween is one my favourite American holidays, so it helps me to feel more connected to my roots to be celebrating it here. I’m also kind of proud of it as an American institution. Dressing up and visiting the neighbourhood is a great way to bring communities together. Watching scary movies and celebrating death is also a way to be less afraid of it.

Here’s a few ways that I try to celebrate Halloween in France while sharing it with my friends and co-workers:

1. Buy some squashes

What we would call a pumpkin (citrouille) in the States is usually defined under the more general term courge or squash in France. Whether buying courges or citrouilles, varieties here are usually grown for their taste and the quality of their flesh. That doesn’t mean they aren’t as festive and cute as their American cousins, but it does complicate carving a bit. A good compromise is to place a candle on or next to your pumpkin without cutting into it. You can use it for a delicious pumpkin soup or pumpkin pie afterwards.

2. Decorate even if you feel silly

Halloween decorations aren’t a big deal in France, so you might hesitate to put out your ghosts, pumpkins and fake spider webs. Don’t! Your friends and co-workers will be interested in your traditions and want to learn more about them. This is a great way to make friends and share something positive about American culture. What we’re most known for here in France is obesity and drink holders for litre-sized cokes. Help change that.

If you’re looking to dress up, Claire’s sells Halloween costumes in France. Yes, there are Claire’s in France. Not sure if that’s good or bad. Mostly weird.

3. Have a pot

The pot (pronounced po’) is a French term for a party that typically celebrates a major event in your life such as your arrival at a new workplace, your depart from your job, a thesis defence, a birth or a marriage. It normally refers to the party thrown for your co-workers during work hours to celebrate said event. Appetizers and drinks are served. They can be very elaborate involving foie gras and champagne or very simple with hard cider and chips or peanuts.

Why not throw a pot for Halloween? Plan on bringing treats like candies, American style apple cider or candied apples (pommes d’amour). This is a great way to have fun and make friends with your co-workers or fellow students.

4. Pumpkin pie (tarte)

If you’re throwing a pot, why not make a traditional pumpkin pie as well. Pumpkins are normally prepared in savoury dishes in France, so your French friends or co-workers will appreciate trying out new ways to eat pumpkin. Muffins are another American treat that the French really appreciate, think about making them with roasted pumpkin.

A small caution : French food tends to contain fewer spices than American treats. Adding too much cinnamon or nutmeg may offend French taste buds. Try increasing the quantity of butter and pumpkin instead.

Here’s a link to one of my favourite pumpkin pie recipes :
http://charlestonchow.blogspot.fr/2010/11/drunken-pumpkin-bourbon-tart.html

I’ve made it for a couple years in a row now and it’s a big hit with my family. Conversion to French measurements coming soon.

5. Watch scary movies with a friend

Sharing the motion picture culture of your home country is another way to feel a little more connected during the Halloween holiday. Drag Me to Hell (Jusqu’en Enfer) is one of my recent favourites. You also have timeless classics like the Exocist, Halloween or Psycho. Add popcorn for a uniquely American touch. Sometimes you can find the microwave version in the Anglo-Saxon section of your local grocery store next to the marmalade, marshmallows and ketchup flavoured chips from Canada.

Try to get your hands on subtitled (French) versions of the films you plan on watching. Your friends, who may have varying levels of English oral comprehension, will thank you. Dubbed versions, while usually not that bad, are still disappointing.

Until next time, Happy Halloween.

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