This is my first Saint Patrick’s Day outside of the United States. It is also my first Saint Patrick’s Day, in living memory, without corned beef. Contrary to popular belief, corned beef is not an Irish tradition on Saint Patrick’s Day. It is an Irish American tradition. Since my family is Irish American (if you couldn’t tell by my last name), we happily eat corned beef, cabbage and potatoes on Saint Patrick’s Day.
Even when I went to college, I made it my mission to find corned beef in Morgantown. My friends thought I was crazy for wanting to continue the tradition, but I hunted most of the restaurants in Morgantown with my roommate, the only one willing to run around with me. I found some corned beef, cabbage and potatoes and was content for the rest of the evening.
But here in France? Today is Sunday. Everything is closed on Sunday. Also, I don’t think I would be able to find corned beef, since it is an Irish American tradition and not particularly Irish (although there must be corned beef in Ireland). So, here I am. Alone in a foreign country and without corned beef.
I am, however, happy to say that I’ve been able to celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day. Thursday evening, I went with the French man (whom I cook with, but haven’t actually done any cooking yet) to the English forum, which is like the English table I participate in on Tuesday. The participants speak only English to improve their speaking skills. At the English forum, they had a quiz on Ireland. I was able to get some of the answers, but some of them were really tough. I have no idea who the most famous living Irish painter is.
After that, I went to the French couple’s house for a “light” French dinner. I firmly believe that there is no such “light” French dinner. We started in the living room again with olives and tomatoes. We moved into the dining room for the principle plate (there was no appetizer this time, that’s what made it “light”) which was rabbit and pasta. After that was the cheese and the bread, which I still have a little trouble with. I like the light cheeses, but anything that’s green and moldy just doesn’t taste good to me. We then had dessert, which was a caramel crème. By this time, it was eleven o’clock at night. The Italian girl had a test the next morning, but we couldn’t have a meal without coffee at the end! We returned to the living room for coffee. I felt awful turning down the coffee, but I don’t like the taste of coffee. Luckily, the couple offered me tea and I was very excited to accept. I love tea! After coffee, it was officially late at night. It was eleven-thirty and the Italian girl had her test at 8:30 in the morning! I think it’s funny how this was a “light” and “quick” meal in France. To me, it was still an extraordinarily long meal!
I am very glad that I have the opportunity to know this French couple. While the purpose of our meeting is to cook (which we still haven’t done yet – they just keep feeding us), they clearly are interested in us as people. They are kind enough to invite us to their house, to cook for us, to take us to the beach…they are even considering taking us on a special trip somewhere too. This is above and beyond what they are required to do. I’m very lucky and so grateful.
On Friday, I went with Kacy (my American traveling companion) on a special adventure. A man was searching the internet and stumbled across Kacy’s blog (she keeps one for her university just as I keep one for mine). He lives in Nantes and read a few entries. He recognized a name and then went on Facebook to check. Sure enough, Kacy’s boyfriend (who had studied abroad in Nantes months ago) was the same guy this man knew. Small world. The man is a pastor and invited Kacy to his church’s Saint Patrick’s Day celebration on Friday and invited her to bring along a friend (which would be where I come into the story). We met the pastor and his wife at their house, but Kacy didn’t know much about the couple (only that her boyfriend studied with them when he was in school here and that they were a nice couple).
Upon meeting them, I noticed their Irish accents, but thought that maybe they were pretending (since it was a Saint Patrick’s Day celebration and since I was under the impression that they were American). However, this was not the case. They were from Northern Ireland. We helped them carry supplies to their car and they drove us to the venue.
We helped them set up by arranging pastries on plates and blowing up lots of balloons. Then, people started to arrive. While it was a Saint Patrick’s Day celebration, we were still in France and so we spoke French to the other people. For the next two hours, we did traditional Irish folk dances (which are similar to American folk dances). All the explanations and counting was in French, but I don’t think that mattered. I don’t think I can dance very well in any language/culture! After the dancing (which was very fun with lots of old ladies and even some young English speakers), we listened to a PowerPoint presentation which covered a little bit of history of Ireland and, more specifically, the violence and potential for peace in Northern Ireland. Since it was a church event, it did have a religious message at the end of it and it was very interesting to view Ireland’s history in such a manner. The last part of the night was my favorite: free food. The pastries that were offered were delicious. The couple drove us home (which was particularly nice since it was raining and they knew where it was – they stayed at the same dorm when they were studying at the Université de Nantes too). The couple was extremely nice and I’m glad they invited Kacy (and her friend) to the event.
That’s how I celebrated Saint Patrick’s Day. No corned beef, but plenty of other activities! I know that the English table on Tuesday is also centered around Saint Patrick’s Day so I might just keep celebrating it for the next week!