Christmas Cultural Confusion

I made a batch of mince pies yesterday. This involved buying some mincemeat from the humiliating “English section” of the supermarket which I normally never go in, where you can buy Marmite for €8 per jar, and several other strange products. I miss many things about the UK, but sandwich spread isn’t one of them

Anyway, the pies turned out OK so Nik and I took some up to the house of our elderly neighbour – a wonderful woman called Madam Brun. She is in her 80s and a little deaf, plus she speaks the local dialect referred to round here as “patois” but more properly known as Occitan. Her children have made her learn some French, but she doesn’t really like speaking it. So as you can imagine we communicate mostly through the medium of elaborate mime and lots of smiling. I like her enormously, and bizarrely we have some kind of connection. Different generations, different cultures, different languages and yet we have hit it off. She likes Nik too, and we were both delighted when earlier in the summer she instructed us to call her by her first name Margarite.

Margarite had invited two of her daughters round, both of whom we also really like. The mince pies were put on plates and everyone stared at them curiously. “What are these” asked Madeleine? “ils s'appellent mince pies” I replied, in my best French, before rather unwisely embarked on a rambling explanation about how in olden days, they would have had meat in. “Yes, meat that was a bit off” chipped in Nik, a little unhelpfully I thought. “And do these have that in?” asked Madeleine, starting to look a little nervous. “No, no these are sweet” I tried to reassure her. “And what are they called again”, “they are mince pies”. Mince when said with a French accent, “mance” is a mild expletive - a bit like bugger. Madeleine looked amused. Bugger pies then.

Gabby, the second daughter decided to get involved. “But what is this second word?”. “Pie, P.I.E” I tried to spell it for her. She looked confused and pointing out of the window said “like the bird? Do they have birds in?” Too late I remembered that pie is the French for Magpie. This was going fairly badly.

Somewhat nervously they all took a tiny bite of their bugger pies which may or may not have contained rotten meat and magpies. “Oh but this is nice” said Madeleine, with obvious relief. All three of them pulled apart their pie and started examining the filling. I was loving this. How is it possible that there are still parts of France that have not succumbed to the all pervasive, thuggish culture of the UK? It was like discovering an untouched tribe in the Amazon. How fantastic that these women have genuinely never experienced the mince pie, even though there are so many, some say too many, British people living in Haute Vienne and many more just over the border in the Dordogne.

Soon the pies were all eaten and conversation turned, with some relief, to safer subjects like the insemination of cattle. Gabby is a farmer of Limousin cows, and somehow we always seem to end up talking about this with her.

I hope you all had a lovely Christmas day, and are enjoying the holidays. Here’s hoping 2019 is a peaceful and positive year for us all.