And so, like millions of French, we had a réveillon—the traditional Christmas dinner.
In my family, “réveillonner” (yes, the French have a verb to describe the action of eating their Christmas dinner) involves a gathering with my grand-parents on my mother’s side, my uncle and aunt and their two daughters, my parents, my brother and my sister. We usually meet in Saint-Michel, in the old family house, the only place big enough to host all of us.
Going to Saint-Michel is always a complicated affair since both my parents and my grand-parents, in Nantes, no longer have a car. C’est la crise, no one has the money for such luxury in this economy. Saint-Michel is a forty-five-minute drive from Nantes and a local “long-distance” bus (yes, in France, such a ride is considered long distance) goes back and forth between the city and the seaside. But in the winter, the schedule is rather erratic and quite unreliable.
Feng and I decided to rent a car for three days to drive my entire family to Saint-Michel. After all, we had rented cars before, including in the US and Australia—why not in France? But like everything in France, it turned out to be more complicated than it should have been. Eventually, we found a rental company and went to pick up the car.
The ride was a brand-new white Ford Focus—and when I say “brand new”, I mean right out of the factory. It only had 5 kilometres on the odometer.
Poor car. Like most vehicles in France and in Europe, it was a manual car. Problem. Feng, the official driver, can’t really switch gears—he had only driven a manual car once before, in Australia. As for me, I learned to drive in France but failed my licence test twice.
We couldn’t start the car in the parking lot and it didn’t help that the inside of the Ford looked like a Transformer car with fancy buttons everywhere.
Feng kept on stalling. “Alright, you drive then,” he finally said.
Fuck. But hey, apparently, switching gear is like riding a bike—you can’t forget, no matter how out-of-practice you are. After a few minutes in the parking lot, I was able to drive to my parents’ place.
I drove all the way to Saint-Michel, in the brand-new car, in the storm and in the dark. And I didn’t crash it—I was actually rather confident. I guess I do drive a lot in Canada and I finally overcame my fear of driving.
I did a few other trips to pick up the rest of my family and I loved it. Listening to old French tunes on the fancy radio, on the small route départementale, I had a blast. Who would have known…!
Mark was overexcited in Saint-Michel. Two cats (he now says “miaou”) and a bunch of fun new people plus a giant Christmas tree kept him busy and very awake. I gave up putting him to sleep and he ate with us—he developed a taste for gingerbread. We were 13 around the table with him, so I nicknamed him “Judas”. Yes, I know…
I’m not sure if he understood the concept of Santa Claus but he sure was awake first thing in the morning on the 25th!