This has been a confusing articles for me to write. To research this story I spoke to several French friends, both male and female, single and in relationships, and asked them how they celebrate “La Saint Valentin” also known as “fête de l’amour”, or celebration of love.
…who is snapping up all those delicious heart shaped pastries and coffee cups embossed with proclamations of love?
When I posed the subject, they looked at me as if I had asked them if they enjoyed putting ketchup in their bœuf bourguignon. The overwhelming consensus seemed to be that Valentine’s Day is nothing more than a commercial import from America to get people to spend money, just like Halloween. After the initial shock of the question wore off, they all went on with pride about how the French are already very romantic all the time, and that they don’t need a specific day to celebrate love. It is rather evident when you spend time in Paris. You see that the couples here are more romantically demonstrative and affectionate in public than us shy Anglos.
Well ok, but there are window displays all over the city chock full of Valentine themed merchandise, and the pastry shops have all kinds of heart shaped cakes, chocolates and candies for sale right now. So what’s up with that? Who’s buying this stuff? I live in a residential area of Paris and I see it everywhere in my neighbourhood so it can’t be meant only for wide-eyed tourists eager to buy up Valentine paraphernalia.
I wanted to get a more objective perspective on this matter so I turned to Lily (La Tigresse) Heise, a Canadian expat and romance expert, who has lived in Paris and written about love in the city of lights for the past 18 years. She concurred that the French do see themselves as already very romantic so there is no need to celebrate Valentine’s Day.
However Lily says that Valentine’s celebrating has picked up over the years and although there are some French who do partake, they do so maybe a little begrudgingly. It appears to me that even if they do celebrate, it seems to be rather low key, maybe with flowers, or a dinner, but not both, and as Lily stated: “A couple with children wouldn’t go to the trouble of hiring a babysitter to go out for a Valentine’s dinner.”
It’s not customary to exchange cards here either. You’ll be hard pressed to find a Valentine’s Day card here for your sweetheart, and especially not for children. One sweet, expat grandmother here told me that the clerk looked at her like she had escargots crawling out of her hears when she asked at a shop for Valentine’s cards to send to her grandchildren back home. And kids don’t exchange them at school like we did in Canada when I was little. It is a celebration here that is strictly for lovers only.
So getting back to the question about who is snapping up all those delicious heart shaped pastries and coffee cups embossed with proclamations of love? Well according to Lily, when you’re out in restaurant in Paris on the 14th of February, they’re packed with couples. Many of them are French so I suspect the tourists can’t be blamed for buying up all of these Valentine goods, the French are too, even if they won’t admit it.
As for playing it low key here in Paris, City Hall has been running an annual campaign of individual messages of love to be illuminated on 170 electronic panels on the streets of Paris, which will be on display until February 16th.
Folks have been invited to submit their messages on the municipal website, of which 170 have been chosen for the illuminated panels across the city.
So this is where my confusion lies. I have received a lot of mixed messaging when looking into this subject. When questioning Parisians one on one, noses scrunch up and I get the pooh pooh attitude about Valentines Day. However, the French truly are a romantic lot, and proud of it. Although they may scorn it’s commercialism. I don’t think they can resist an opportunity to show off their romantic prowess. After all, the restaurants are full of couples gazing lovingly into each others eyes, and public declarations of love are lit up all over the city for everyone to see.
Lily’s recommendations for a romantic dinner in Paris:
For a Romantic Splurge try Lapérouse | 51 quai des Grands Augustins
This chic restaurant, located in a 17th century townhouse has an attractive bar and dining area, but the real draw is its private dining rooms where the well heeled used to (and may still) take their mistresses. Today their mirrors still bear little scratches from the mademoiselles checking to see if their gifts of diamonds were real.
For a more reasonably priced option try Petrelle | 34 rue Petrelle
Located on a small side street in the 9th arrondissement, Petrelle is perfect for a romantic tête-à-tête with a whimsical decor of antiques, golden chandeliers, mismatched lamps, offbeat curiosities and low lighting.
Article by Lisa Rankin, hard-core foodie, wine hound, Paris lover, and Flavors of Paris founder.