Saturday, December 20, 2014

Lécher les vitrines ~ Lighting up the Windows

The winter holidays are celebrated a little differently here in France than they are in the US.  For one, we've not seen apartments lit with Christmas lights.  Lights seem to be reserved for spanning intersections at major rues.  For two, people spend obscene amounts of money to watch a tree die in their apartments, but they remain largely un-decorated.

lécher les vitrine ~ Paris ~ 2014

Jude read me something about how France just doesn't get excited about Christmas they way Americans do.

I suppose the proof of that is in how the French spend their monies around this time of year.  Merchants here in France were encouraged by the Americans to hold their own Black Friday celebration of in-ordinate consumption of Junk We Really Don't Need.  It was a rather heavily promoted "event" here in Paris.  But... the buying public didn't bite.  Afterall, how can you transplant the idea of something as Sacred as Consumption and at the same time leave the Thanksgiving part of the story to the French imagination?

It seems an impossible task.  Alas, that's what I felt about McDonalds fast food installing themselves prominently on the Champs Elysee thirty years ago.  Now it seems like McDo is everywhere around the city.  It's where school kids seem to congregate during their lunch hour down in our quartier.  So perhaps we need to give the Thanksgiving idea of Black Friday another, oh, 30 years or so?

lécher les vitrine ~ Paris ~ 2014

However, there is one thing the Pars merchants seem to do well and that is putting on a great Christmas window display.  Le Bon Marche, le Printemps, and les Galeries Lafayette are renown for their winter window displays.

I'm not sure where the expression originated, but it seems to apply to window watching around this time of year.  It's called lécher les vitrines, or licking the windows.  It's one of the many uniquely Paris experiences Jude and I had yet to seriously explore.

The Winter Holidays can be a little depressing, actually.  Our closest friends are not here.  The children in our family lead their own very independent lives and they have their own distractions.  We don't want to haul home a tree to watch it wither away in our living room.  We don't light up the inside of the apartment with twinkly lights because electricity is fairly expensive.  So what to do?

lécher les vitrine ~ Paris ~ 2014

We needed a distraction from the gloom and chose to lécher les vitrines.  We talked about when to go.  Dusk seemed about right.  We talked about which day would be good.  Well, today, en fait.  We considered which metro to take and where to get off.  The number 8 to Opera and the number 12 to Sevres-Babylon.  The only modification to our scheme came when Jude realized she had a phone call to make at dusk, so we decided to head out after lunch and let the lights work their majick under the typical Paris dark-gray skies.

Our first stop was at les Galeries Lafayette.  The sidewalks weren't as crowded as I feared on a Friday afternoon they might be.  As we approached the first display we quickly realized the French had gotten it completely and utterly wrong.  They'd mistaken Christmas for Halloween.  The display wasn't what we were expecting at all.  Monsters?  In December?  No.  Those things come out back in October.

lécher les vitrine ~ Paris ~ 2014

Still, it was fun to see the lights and watch the families photograph their children in front of the displays.  They had one display of toy solders, so all wasn't lost, was it?

Le Printemps was the next stop.  It's just up the street from les Galeries Lafayette.  We were hoping for something more traditional.  And... tradition is what we got.  American and English Full Force In Your Face Marketing See What We Sell NOW! kind of tradition.  It was all about Burberry.  Did I miss something?  Is le Printemps now owned by Burberry?  Shaking our heads we dove back into the metro to make our way to the next window display.

Our last chance of Winter Holiday Happiness through lécher les vitrines was le Bon Marche.  Two years ago they had a wonderful display.  The animation was lovely.  The theme was what I'd come to expect from Parisian Sophistication and Elegance.  It was fun.

lécher les vitrine ~ Paris ~ 2014

That was then.  This is now.

Le Bon Marche offered cutouts of reindeer that gave a little wiggle as their entire nod toward animation.  Ugh.  That was it.  We'd had enough.  We'd struck-out (to use a phrase from American baseball).  It was time to head back to the apartment so Jude could make her phone call.

I wonder.  Has France changed that much that?  Where was the elegance?  Where was the beauty?  Where's my Belgium beer?  I need to sit and ponder the Great Unknowable a bit and see if I can't understand a thing or two.

lécher les vitrine ~ Paris ~ 2014

Bah Humbug!


  1. Coincidentally, our 'bucket list' now includes spending a Christmas in Paris. Even after reading this post... ;-)

    1. We'll get after the store owners before you come to have them clean up their act. :-)

      I think we need to take a long walk on the Champs-Elysee to see if things are a little better over there. Stay tuned for our findings. LOL!!!