I’d vaguely heard of the whole calendar thing before moving to France, but when the Christmas season began it had somehow slipped my mind.
I remember the day clearly eight years ago. Our nice friendly postman Michel knocked at the door, and with a beaming smile asked if I’d like to buy a calendar. I glanced quickly at the selection of designs and said ‘non merci’. My husband overhearing my colossal faux pas rushed to the front door, invited Michel into the house and offered him a drink. ‘Of course we would like to buy a calendar…’ He then handed me a bundle of hardback calendars to flick through.
Michel the postman
Being an annoying urbanite, I started to look to see if there was enough space for each day to write on (there wasn’t) and also suggested doing something maybe a bit more fun like the French rugby players, a la The Women’s Institute. My husband gave me that look to pipe down and I duly chose a calendar with kittens on our something, and we handed Michel a very generous tip, partly due to my ‘bull in a china shop’ attempts at integrating, and partly because we had just moved to the area.
My first instinct was to throw the calendar in the bin, as I knew I wouldn’t use it, but then I had second thoughts. I started to look through all the information contained within it – recipes, sayings, stories – and I thought it would be good for my niece who is learning French. My initial response was to be rather annoyed by the poor selection of images and the lack of imagination, but then I realised that I was imposing an urban set of values onto this local tradition. So what if the calendar is a “bit naff.”
In the end the design of the calendars isn’t important, but it’s to show appreciation of service to the community provided by people like postmen and especially the volunteers such as the firemen. That’s something which is really strong in rural France and is increasingly under threat elsewhere in Europe.
A couple of days later, we had another calendar given to us after our fuel tank was filled up. This time I wasn’t given a choice of design.
Next it was the pompiers who handed over the selection of hardback calendars, seemingly from the same depot as the postman’s hoard. Perhaps they shared them?
It’s always a bit of a struggle trying to find a calendar I like, but sometimes I will find something which someone might like as a bit of a joke present. I’ve grown rather attached to them now even though I never actually use them – I at least make valiant attempts to re-home them. The tips aren’t quite so generous as that first year as we now know that the norm is, and I’m not quite so rude. I think I’d be quite sad to see them go, if there was someone who came in and suddenly tried to make them cool and trendy, or useful even. They’re a part of French life, and it’s lovely.