France goes all out for Christmas, even my local grocery store has blue lights up to match the blue part of its logo!  Every little town seems to have lights and decorations as well!  Even though I never liked traveling at this time of year, I’m enjoying the experience of seeing how the holidays are done in a different part of the world.

Meeting Ex-Pats
Since it will take some time to be fluent in French, I’ve decided that having a good mix of French and ex-pat friends is ideal!  Plus, with Rita in La Rochelle most of the time, L’américaine moving back to the US next year and Alexis gone at least one week a month, it will be good to broaden my circle.  L’américaine was still in town last weekend (before leaving for the holidays), so we went to the Christmas market together to meet up with a British man, a Turkish woman and a Frenchman, who wanted to practice his English. 

The market that I’d found was back near Angoulême and, after being there twice, I can say with certainty that I would never live there.  Even if I get tired of small town life and find myself in a larger city someday, it is definitely off my list.  The design of the streets is chaos, there was an area with TWO roundabouts looped together and nobody seemed sure how to intersect the second roundabout and there was SO MUCH TRAFFIC.  I’m glad I’m taking the train to Paris this coming weekend – driving in big cities is just not for me!

One advantage of a larger city was the opportunity to eat some ethnic food.  We ended up at a highly-rated Indian food place, which was REALLY good.  It was a little funny though because the French guy who joined us was, of course, worried it would be too spicy.  “Spicy” is not something the French are accustomed to, so they don’t care for it.  The food had a lot of flavor, but it wasn’t spicy at all, so the restaurant may be catering to French preferences?

JL met up with us first.  He’s the French guy who wanted to join us to keep up on his English, which he became very fluent in while working in England.  We were almost done with lunch when BB arrived.  She’s originally from Turkey, but speaks English fluently also.  One thing that is a little culturally different here is that if you’re married in the US, it doesn’t seem that people often go out to meet new friends separately.  Here, it appears to be normal.  BB is married to a Frenchman and JL has a baby due soon with his girlfriend, but both of their partners are French and weren’t really interested in a group outing for English-speakers, so they came alone.

They were also from the area and were surprised that I’d learned of this market because they’d never heard of it.  My trick is that I always review all of the events for ALL of the nearby regions in the English-language Living Magazine, which is free, and make note of ones that sound like they could be interesting.  I don’t often post links, but I really believe this magazine is incredibly useful for people who live in the area.  I learned about the literary festival, Vendée Globe, Gastronomades and the Christmas market from the magazine – it’s the answer to PB’s question of “how do you find anything to do in the country on weekends?” (http://www.livingmagazine.fr/

My favorite thing about the market was that nearly everything was handmade.  I tried my first vin chaude, which is a spiced hot wine, basically mulled wine.  The ladies selling it were concerned that I might need sugar in my wine, but it was plenty sweet and had great flavor – the spices used were quite nice!  To the best of my knowledge, I’ve never tried mulled wine . . . or if I did, it was different and I didn’t care for it.  This was really good and I’ll certainly enjoy another glass or two for the season.  I also bought another winter hat – this one is a little more French!  It’s hard to tell in the photo, but it puffs out in the back (see the second photo for the style).  I’m also wearing my new winter scarf-blanket.  In the winter, the French pull out these giant half-blanket sized scarfs, which you certainly need!  It was below freezing every night last week and barely into the teens (in Celsius) during the day.  Due to the cultural obsession with accessorizing, I own more accessories living in France than I’ve had in my life!

JL and BB were both really nice and I’m glad that we met them!  The British man never made it, but the four of us had fun looking through the market and choosing a few items.  L’américaine and I also convinced them that taking photos of everything is “American” and that a group selfie was necessary to commemorate the outing.

I think when it comes to making new friends in a foreign country, you have to just continue putting yourself out there – meet up with people, hang out and see what “sticks.”  It’s entirely possible that you’ll meet people and never see them again or somebody will fail to show up (like the Brit); however, eventually you’ll find your tribe!

Wine Open House
At the food festival, the winery that Alexis and I bought our pineau from had told us they were having an open house on December 3.  After we said our good-byes to BB and JL, L’américaine and I headed to the open house so we could sample some wine and stock up.

Since having friends over for a meal is a common occurrence in France, and alcohol is virtually always served, I decided to take advantage of the “buy 6, get 1 free” offer that they had going on.  I now have a good mix of a sweet white sparkling wine, a rosé sparkling wine and I picked up a bottle of the “very special” sparkling wine, which had fruit flavors that a normal person could taste!  The very special bottle is, of course, the lovely blue one below.  I’ll be saving that one for a special occasion!

It was really interesting that most people were not spitting anything out or dumping their glasses (although I had to because I was the driver).  There were trays of cheese, bread and mini desserts that were well-eaten by the guests though!  The winery staff seemed perfectly willing to let each person try all 10 sparkling wines and the regular and the pineau . . . even when I asked for a small pour, it was ~1/3 full!

So, all-in-all, another enjoyable weekend in the French countryside.  Next weekend, I have decided to take a little break from country life, so I’m headed to Paris for the weekend!  I didn’t spend any time in Paris earlier in the year nor since I’ve returned, so seeing the large Christmas market there felt like a perfect excuse to visit again.