Since returning from the Christmas holidays, I have felt ever more settled into the French way of life. I refuse to become angry when shops don’t open, when people shout at me in the street, and when people sneer at my accent. I feel that passive-aggressive politeness will win them over eventually.

Of course not all French people are like this. As soon as you manage to break through the tough Gallic exterior and befriend a French person, the best will be funny, loyal, and interesting people who make great conversation. Take my colleagues for example. Given the size of my lycée (around 1200 pupils), there are close on 100 teachers, though many of them are never seen or heard of in the salle des profs (staff room). On Monday we all shared a very French tradition together, the gallette des rois. Originally intended to mark Epiphany, it has now become a social occasion to see in the new year with family, friends, and colleagues. The week around the 6th of January becomes 7 days of traipsing between gallette parties, each more deliciously pastry based than the next.

Gallettes normally come in three flavours, which are ‘sèche’, with no filling, ‘frangipane’, and ‘pomme’, apple. However some of the more edgy boulangers are trying to extend the range to include things like chocolate, much to the distaste of traditionalists. The other thing about gallettes are the ‘fèves’ that you find inside. These are usually small, plastic figurines hidden in the filling, and can be anything from Baby Jesus to Hello Kitty. If you find a fève you are the ‘roi’ or ‘reine’ (King or Queen), and you get a card crown to wear. Tradition dictates that the youngest in the room must sit under the table while the gallette is served, but I kept very quiet about being 21 and therefore escaped this slight humiliation. You can also pick a king or queen to accompany you, and my colleague Olivier said I could be his ‘reine’.

What I noticed was all my colleagues chatting contentedly, sharing some cider, as is tradition with gallette. Contrast to the average staff night out in the UK. No one was drunk, no one was graphically and humiliatingly coming on to each other, and no one was making embarrassing speeches full of sexist jokes. The proviseure (headteacher) made a short speech about wishing us all the best for 2010, and that was it. When it comes to sharing food and conversation in a work environment, the French have got the edge.

P.S. Will add a photo of me as ‘reine’ when it comes!

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