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Le Marche Noel, Le Chocolat Chaud, Le Sapin – Christmas Time in Toulouse

I am a North Penn student spending my junior year in France. The French get just as excited about Christmas as we do in the states.

It’s always apparent that the holiday season has arrived as the weather gets colder, people start thinking about gifts, and Christmas music is playing in nearly every store. 

In France, they start just as early with the preparations.  The new Justin Bieber “All I Want for Christmas is You” Mariah Carey remix was reverberating out of the H&M just a few days after Thanksgiving.  The French listen to a lot of the same Christmas songs as we do.  There are a few songs in French, but otherwise the music is the same, and sometimes I forget I’m in France. 

With the images of Le Pere Noel in shop windows, the busy stores, and the need for scarfs and hats, preparing for Christmas is similar to the United States.  However, there has not been any snow. 

It doesn’t typically snow in Toulouse, but in the Alps and the Pyrenees Mountains, snow is way more common.  My host family and I had planned to go skiing in the Pyrenees this past weekend but had to postpone the trip until January as there is not enough snow for skiing yet.

One difference however is Le Marche Noel (The Christmas Market).  It’s not originally French, but actually German (Christkindlmarkt), but Toulouse has adopted it at Place Capital.  It’s a village scene set up with little wooded houses where vendors can sell their products.

The variety is immense as one can buy almost everything from food – fromage (cheese),  des gâteux (cakes), les marrons (chestnuts), and even un puree des pommes de terre (mashed potatoes), (Yes, there is a stand just for mashed potatoes) to des cadeaux (presents) and hand-crafted artisan wares. 

Of course, everything is really expensive, as one le chocolat chaud (hot chocolate) is 4 euros (about $6), but it is delicious.  I’m hesitant to even call it hot chocolate, because when I think of “hot chocolate” I think of the powdered Swiss Miss and hot water drink, not legitimate chocolate that is melted.

To make le chocolat chaud, they take a giant boiler and stick 80% cocoa chocolate in it with butter and a little crème.  It’s like drinking pure chocolate fondue, but even better.  Along with le chocolate chaud, one can also buy le vin chaud (hot wine).  

Even though it’s expensive, my friends and I like to walk around Le Marche Noel, especially at night, and see all the decorations and lights.  The decorations continue from Place Capital all around the city, with strings of blue lights zigzagging overhead from buildings and the trees illuminated with twinkle lights.  

The lights and decorations forever continue, even in my apartment.  We put up and decorated le sapin (fir tree) and have le crèche (nativity scene) set up in the same room.

One of my favorite things is when we light a fire and everyone is in le salon (living room).  To me, that is the signifying factor that it’s the holidays, being together with the people you love, and it reminds me a lot of home in the states.

My parents back in America sent me pictures of our Christmas tree and decorations and such (I’m still trying to figure out if it’s to make me miss them or if they were trying to be nice).  Of course the holiday season will be tough, but I have so much to look forward to.  

Vacation from school starts Saturday the 17th, and during our time off, we have plans to travel to relatives’ houses throughout France and ultimately our final destination is Paris.  In less than a week, my host brother and I will be on a train to Lyon where my host parents and sister will meet up with us.

It’s a dream Christmas, as I not only get to spend the holidays “French style” with my French family and see several French cities and the countryside, but I will also be in Paris for my birthday (I turn 17 on December 28th).  So “Joyeux Noel” America!  Sorry Mom and Dad… nice try with the pictures.

One of the most common questions I am asked nearly every day is “Tu comprends?” (Do you understand?)

Here’s my update on the language progression: I’ve been here a little over three months, and I still can’t understand everything people say.  I constantly need to ask people to repeat or talk slower or sadly even to speak to me in French.  (A lot of people can speak English to some extent and want to practice their English with me.  Plus there are two other Americans in my classes at about the same speaking level as me, so English is pretty popular).

And comprehension is not the hard part; it’s the speaking and pronunciation I find most difficult. People can instantly tell I am not a native speaker when I talk because I have an American accent. But, however slowly, I am progressing, and each day it’s easier.

When I first arrived, I understood barely anything, and it was like trying to get reception to an outdated radio, but since then I have found a station with reception, it’s just a little fuzzy sometimes. And as aggravating as it is, living here is the only way to fully learn the language.

The human species has this incredible resiliency for adaptation, which makes it possible for me to slowly pick up the language.  I’ve even come to the point where I think in French. (Not entirely, as it’s a weird mix between English and French, but it’s ok because it all makes sense in my head).

I find it so fascinating the process for adaptation and learning, and how what seemed like incessant noise at first now makes sense and actually has meaning behind it.  It makes me realize that no matter where you are, when you go somewhere else, it’s different.  Nobody thinks the same way you do, has the same fashion, or even speaks the same language.  Even within one country, you find variation between regions and even cities.  I guess what I’m trying to say is nothing is what you would expect, maybe you should never go anywhere with expectations. 

Immersing yourself in a new language is a weird experience to try and explain.  But I think it’s a necessary experience, as the world is so quick to judge and to resist acceptance of others, before they even can understand the reasons behind people’s actions.  And the only way to understand other people is to “live in their shoes”.

Something that seems insanely bizarre to one person can be habitually normal to someone else.  We live in a world where you can’t be ignorant of other people’s cultures.  Rather listen, learn, try to understand, because without understanding, you'll never fully accept them or their culture. 

Everyone wants peace for Christmas.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Brian McCaffrey December 13, 2011 at 01:02 AM
Joyeux Noel, Bon Anniversaire, Bon Annee et Bon Sante! (I can't figure out how to get the accents over the letters, zut alors!). I love reading your blogs Caroline, so descriptive and interesting and informative, it feels like I'm there with you. Great to read that la langue francais is coming along, thinking in French is a major step forward, awesome! Enjoy your trip to Lyon and Paris, La Ville-Lumiere, c'est un voyage fantastique! Bon Voyage, Caroline et rappelez-vous moi a Paris!
Eileen McCaffrey Schuman December 13, 2011 at 04:40 PM
Beautifully descriptive, Caroline. You are very thoughtfully processing your experience. Glad that you are enjoying it so much.
The Di Domizio's December 13, 2011 at 07:11 PM
Happy Birthday and Merry Christmas Caroline. We all miss you and are glad that you are having such a wonderful time!
Lucy Carroll December 13, 2011 at 08:37 PM
Hello Carly, I'm Brian's Father's (relatively) new wife which, I think, makes me Brian's step mother. From my early recollections from fairy tales there were never just step mothers, they were always "wicked" step mothers, so I avoid the term as often as possible. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading and looking at your blog. Your descriptions of what you see, hear, feel and experience are beautifully expressed and the photos help us better vsualize what's going on. France, in my opinion, is a country filled with spirited people, wonderful art, great food, and hundreds of interesting things to do. I'm glad you're having such an enjoyable and positive experience. Several years ago, my granddaughter took a trip from California to the east coast with 7 other high school students to visit colleges and attend a summer session at Brown. They too maintained a blog reporting on their experiences and impressions, documented each day with photos. It was such fun to live through their experiences vicariously just as it is to read your blog. Thank you for sharing your experiences and enjoy the rest of your stay in France and Merry Christmas to you! Lucy Carroll McCaffrey
Andy Szekely December 15, 2011 at 02:39 PM
Bonjour Mademosielle Loper! Je m'appelle Andy Szekely et je suis the maire de Lansdale. Moi aussi, j'ai passe une annee en France quand j'avais 21 ans a Rennes a l'Universite de Rennes. Je me souviens l'atmosphere de Noel et c'etait tres bien la. Aussi, c'est une tres bonne analogie de venir de comprendre le francis comme ecouter au station de radio; quand on arrive tout c'est incomprehensible, mais le temps passe, ca arrive bien sur. Moi et tout de Lansdale vous souhaite un joyeux Noel et un tres bon sejours en France! Andy Szekely Maire de Lansdale
Elke Bowman December 15, 2011 at 10:28 PM
Hi Caroline, What a beautiful article, so thoughtfully written. The pictures and your expressive way of letting us share your experience in France helps us bridge missing you so much. Especially during the holiday season. Grandpop and I are so very proud of you. I can relate to your struggle of learning French, as I, coming from Germany at age 10 did not speak any English. You are right; you learn living among the culture. People are always willing to help. Merry Christmas and enjoy your time during Christmas vacation. Hope you update us on Paris. Love, Grandmom
Carly Loper December 17, 2011 at 03:58 PM
Merci beaucoup Brian. Je te dirai de mes voyages après le Noël. J’espère tout est bien, et joyeux Noël et bon nouvel an. Aussi, merci pour les lettres, j'ai reçu deux cette semaine.
Carly Loper December 17, 2011 at 03:58 PM
Thank you, happy holidays:)
Carly Loper December 17, 2011 at 03:59 PM
Thank you Di Domizio's ! I love you and miss you so much ! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year !
Carly Loper December 17, 2011 at 04:01 PM
Merci beaucoup ! France is definitely a life changing experience for me, and I'm so happy to be able to share it with you. Thank you for reading, and happy holidays !
Carly Loper December 17, 2011 at 04:06 PM
Bonjour Monsieur Szekely, Vous avez voyage en France aussi ? C'est cool ! Je me plais ici, et j’étais très contente que j'ai compris votre "comment." Merci beaucoup, et joyeux noël a vous aussi!
Carly Loper December 17, 2011 at 04:09 PM
Thank you Mom-mom ! I'm so happy to be able to share my adventures with you, and I'm going to have so much more to share with you when I get back. And of course I'll update you on Paris ! I miss you guys so much, and I hope you have a wonderful holiday season. Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year. (And your package arrived yesterday, I havent opened any presents yet, as I will painfully wait unil Christmas, but my family and I love the cookies! Thank you so much!) Love you, Caroline
Bob Gordon December 23, 2011 at 06:27 PM
Carly-I teach French at Montgomery County Community College. In addition, I have an Immersion Group [who are in significantly varying stages of mastery of French] that meets chez moi for 10 sessions each during the Spring and Fall semesters. I have 10-12 students in the classes. I'd love to have you be a "guest" for one of our sessions when you return. Everyone of them has been to France & they're pretty much francophiles - level-headed ones that like France, blemishes and all! They'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences en France. My email is r.gordon33@verizon.net - or you can friend me on Facebook. Keep in touch - bonnes fêtes de fin d'année.
Tony Di Domizio (Editor) December 26, 2011 at 08:02 AM
Carly is a welcome addition to Montgomeryville-Lansdale Patch. Her adventures in a foreign country have garnered much attention from our local readers. Keep up the great work, Carly!
I. B. December 26, 2011 at 02:49 PM
I too felt your writing about how the French experience the holiday was so well done it was as if I was seeing it myself. Thank you in helping us to remain mindful that the world does not only exist on our "Main Street" but on many"Main Streets" throughout the world, and while there are different cultures which actually adds to the human experience we all share much of the same Hopes, dreams and values. One of the advantages of travel for those few who are privileged to be able to do is being able to see many cultures different than your own, gaining respect for the differences, realizing deep down most are all seeking the same truth and the mystery that this is the way it was intended. this awareness helps to keep our focus on the true meaning of Christmas.
Carly Loper December 31, 2011 at 12:43 PM
Exactly. It's so true. Thank you for reading my article, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year. I wish you all well.
Elke Bowman December 31, 2011 at 05:16 PM
Happy New Year Caroline. Do you realize how many people you are impacting with your writing. Again, we are so proud of you. Can't wait until the next article. Love you. Mom Mom
Brian McCaffrey January 03, 2012 at 02:25 AM
Bonjour Caroline! Merci pour ton message. Je t'ecrirai un lettre a bientot and je regarderai a Facebook pour tes photos a Paris. j'espere que tu as un tres bien premiere semaine a l'ecole pour 2012.
christy tomascik February 01, 2012 at 03:01 PM
Caroline- Great job on the article. I'm so glad your having such an amazing trip! That marketplace sounds right up my alley! Love you so much! xoxo, Christy

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