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How to Have Your Cake(s) and Eat It Too

How to Have Your Cake and Eat it, Too

New Years Resolutions à la Française

In France the Gods of Pleasure enchant the French with enviable regularity, reminding them that All Work and No Play Makes Jacques a Dull Boy (and Gives Jeanette a Headache). In fact when most Americans are repenting for their holiday sins and excesses the French, after weeks of serious holiday partying, do what appears to them as the most reasonable, logical thing to do: They keep partying. 

Even as early as January 6th the Gods get going: January 6th is the day of La Fête des Rois, also known as The Epiphany. It’s a charming tradition that involves making a frangipane cake inside of which a small trinket called a fève is hidden. A fève is a bean that has been replaced these days by a tiny ceramic figurine of a king, and whoever finds this figurine in their slice of cake gets to wear a gold paper crown and is king or queen for the day. The tradition of La Fête des Rois goes back to the Middle Ages and honors the day the three kings are said to have given gifts to Jesus, but I believe that it was actually Jesus who gave a gift to the French: He gave them one more excuse to eat cake and drink champagne.


REFUSING TO REVEL, NEVER MIND THE TIME OF DAY OR YEAR, IS A CULTURAL MISDEMEANOR IN FRANCE  


Refusing to revel, never mind the time of day or year, is a cultural misdemeanor in France. It singles you out as a slightly comic Spartan. It is anti-pleasure. Moreover the very termNew Year’s Resolutions sounds Conceptually Incorrect in France. There is no French idiom for it, it any case. The French will make a voeux, a wish, and that wish might include some sort of salubrious activity like getting in better shape.

But a wish is a sexy, mutable thing that can be blown by the wind. A wish is like a cloud that might drift your way but that can’t be forced it to do so. It is languorous and fanciful and who knows where it will end up? A resolution, on the other hand, is a firm, concise obligation. It’s a contract between You and Your Conscious that is deep-fried in moral values. A resolution has edges and they’ll menace you forever if you don’t pay attention to them. A resolution, in short, can become one of those deadly virtues if it conspires too radically against the Gods of Pleasure.

THE FRENCH WOMAN...HAS A STRONG PREDILECTION TO ENJOY NOT ONLY THE FINER THINGS IN LIFE, BUT THE THINGS THAT MAKE LIFE FINE.



The idea of New Year’s resolutions is, in fact, very American, and ambition is a wonderful virtue that can become a wicked vice if taken too seriously. Time is not money for the French. It’s an ephemeral currency and should be spent doing the things that make life worth living. Remember, the French might have an acute sense of the brevity of time and the immediacy of pleasure; but they also have a strong predilection to enjoy not only the finer things in life, but the things that make life fine. As French author Veronique Vienne once put it: “Let’s not confuse ‘living well’ with ‘getting ahead.’”

No, let’s not. And while we’re at it, as the New Year approaches let’s not confuse the making a living with having a life! Cheers!


December 27, 2017 
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