It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas - figuring out the tree

Lots of tiny gold and silver Eiffel Towers adorn our tree, as well as spice cookies from Ikea (the only decorations they had left by the time that we got there) and ornaments from Carrefour. Some of them say "Noël", which is only fitting since we're in France.

You know that moment when you're seated next to a stranger on an airplane and they try to initiate a conversation by asking what you do? Well, I've found that the most effective way to curtail any further discussion is to tell them the truth. As soon as they hear that I don't work, they suddenly become engrossed in their book because they're sure that they're seated next to the world's most boring person. Trust me, it's a real conversation stopper.

Just for the fun of it, I may change my answer the next time that I'm flying across the Atlantic and respond that my job is to figure things out. Doesn't that sound mysterious and interesting? But it's true - that's what expats do. We move from country to country and try to figure out how to make our new life resemble our old one. And it's never more evident than at Christmas time when it's impossible to duplicate all of our beloved traditions in a foreign land.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, one of our biggest dilemmas was the question of the tree and what to use for ornaments since all of ours are rather unwisely stored in the United States. Fortunately, I remembered the vendors selling the counterfeit Eiffel Tower keychains from China and made an illegal immigrant's day by purchasing a large portion of his supply. At first, he seemed to think that I was going to enter the lucrative trinket selling business myself and was relieved when I explained that they were for our Christmas tree.

Next on the list - a tree, lights and more ornaments. I won't go into all of the ugly details but will say that there were crowds of people, moments when I was close to tears at the thought of our Christmas failure, and finally success! Sure, the tree seemed to shrink when we got it home and Stephane had to drill holes to insert additional branches to cover the huge gaps, but it looks beautiful -- as do all Christmas trees. And best of all, take a look at our angel. Since the stores that we visited were completely sold out of tree toppers, we made one out of an inverted campagne flute, added some wings and a face (I suggested using my photo but Stephane nixed that idea), and sprayed it with artificial snow. Step aside Martha Stewart!

Next up: Figuring out the Bûche de Noël.

Joseph, Even though we would have liked to wait for our children to decorate the tree, we decided that we wouldn't this year because of how late they arrive. We did, however, get two special ornaments for them to put on the tree.

After seeing this forest of Christmas trees in the courtyard of the George V Hotel, I considered stuffing one up the chimney and taking it home with me like the Grinch in "How the Grinch Stole Christmas". Would they really miss one?


  1. You did a GREAT job, MK, and your tree looks BEAUTIFUL! Here in my part of the world it's beginning to look like a winter wonderland - with all the snow that we're now finally getting. The Christmas tree, though, as Swiss tradition wants it, has to wait till December 24th to get its decoration. After seeing your "oeuvre d'art" I'm a little bit tempted to throw old traditions over board and start on mine this afternoon...

  2. Thanks, Heidi! The pressure was on because Americans put our trees up any time after Thanksgiving. So, I'm weeks late. And I have to say, it was such a pleasure to smell the scent of pine this morning and to see the lights...once I could figure out how to stop them from flashing.

    Enjoy the snow in your winter wonderland and be safe on the roads!

  3. Your tree looks amazing! I'm so impressed given the "last minute" rush you've been talking about! Awesome Awesome. And the craftiness with the angel is very Martha Stewart. Congrats!

  4. MK! YES!!! That is the ultimate convo-killer. No one wants to hear that you don't work (not exactly sure why). When I wasn't working for a year, I remember having awkward moments like these.

    And I love the creative!!! You should so put your face on it. LOL!

  5. The angel is great! Very creative and appropriate considering you are in the land of Chamapgne--maybe Veuve Cliquot will want to buy your design idea. The wings are really well done.

    Isn't it funny how we either do or don't like flashing lights. I'm with you on this one.

    I love the George V display. I had a client in upstate Michigan a couple of years ago who did the same thing--it actually required adding some new electric capacity to the house to hold the lighting requirement--people get crazy this time of year. Are the trees real or artificial? Illinois doesn't allow real trees inside places of business, fire code.

    And speaking of speaking to strangers--I generally try not to say what I do up front but turn the conversation to another topic--about our destination or a book or when will the plane take off. But you should certainly say, "I'm a blogger about life in Paris.", then you get to talk the entire trip. And of course you want that.

  6. Oh, and it's nice you have special ornaments for your kids (they're always kids, right, especially at Christmas).

    How many small Eiffel Towers are on your tree?

  7. This was my favorite post.

    I don't know which I loved more, your description of negotiating with the Eiffel Tower vendor or Stephane's (brilliant!) approach to creating a more robust Christmas tree; on the spot!


    Funny, but my most memorable Holidays seem to be the ones where things were somehow different: e.g. the time I was working in the Nyon office in Switzerland on Thanksgiving Day - feeling rather lonely - and decided to take the balance of the afternoon off to contemplate what the day really meant at the top of the Jura mountain range knee deep in snow.

    Or my memories of my last one-on-one quiet Christmas visits and conversations with my mom before she passed away, and many other similar examples...

    Maybe taking ourselves out of our routines somehow adds value?

    I love your Christmas tree, Mary Kay, and the whole idea of you and Stephane creatively putting together your very own "Parisian holiday nest" for your family to visit and feel welcome. I'm sure they shall.

    Well done!

    Your Friends in Boston

  8. What a creative tree topper! Martha Stewart eat your heart out indeed!:)

    I discovered your blog trough Tales from the chambre de bonne and I'm loving it!:) I've started reading it from the start:) I'm only up to June, but will get through the whole thing:) What a treat!:)

  9. Having moved frequently as a child (about every four years) your comment "We move from country to country and try to figure out how to make our new life resemble our old one." hit home. Once asked, as a child, where "home" was the response given: wherever my parents and my "stuff" are! I now try to provide that continuity for my child. We're having a grand time celebrating Christmas in Paris for the second year. Thanks for your posts, I thoroughly enjoy reading them. AM

  10. I think you should have used your photo for the angel! It's the most ingenious tree-topper I've ever seen. We still don't have any genuine French decorations for our tree. All the ones I've bought here have turned out to be made in China! I love those little Eiffel Towers!

  11. kbh, Thank you! Your tree and "holiday heaven" apartment look beautiful - a very magical place to celebrate your first Christmas in Paris with Sir. L!

    Mlle Ella, Maybe you should have tried telling the study abroad students, "I don't work" to see if that would stun them into silence during your recent flight to NY! ;)

    Joseph, The trees at the George V are in a courtyard that is locked, so I'm not sure if they're real of fake. But judging from the smell of pine in most of the buildings, there doesn't seem to be a restriction against having live trees indoors.

    Do you need an Eiffel Tower key ring? Just asking because I bought about 87 from the vendor. Since the tree is smaller than I expected, I probably used about 2/3 of them. At 15€ for all of them, I was pleased with the price. It just makes me wonder how much he originally paid for them because he seemed happy too.

    Friends, Standing knee deep in snow on the top of a mountain is always the perfect spot for contemplation, especially if it's in the Jura. There's something about the sweeping vistas that puts everything into perspective but also always humbles me. My life and routine are insignificant next to the timelessness of the mountains or the ocean.

    Duchesse, Welcome and many thanks for your kind comment! I always enjoy "seeing" you over at Mlle Ella's blog. I hope that you're having a good time in Paris and that you're able to connect with your hubby without too many problems!

    AM, Isn't the question of "home" the hardest one to answer for someone who has moved a lot? We always told our kids the same thing - home is wherever the 4 of us are together, be it a hotel room or temporary housing. But it's still confusing. Both of them say that it's their least favorite question, but one that people always ask them. Best wishes for your second Christmas in Paris!

    Steph, Maybe I'll sneak my photo on the angel and see if anyone notices. I could always tell them that Santa Claus put it there!

  12. you are so clever!
    the gold keys are beutiful.

  13. Thanks, Jinhee! We're pleased with the key chains, too!

  14. I won't be in Paris until the summer, but using a mini Eiffel Tower on my tree next Christmas is now on my list!


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