Midnight strikes on December 31. Within seconds cell phones begin beeping with incoming text messages. “Bonne année!” flashes across mini-screens everywhere. A string of well wishes follows. Then, throughout the month of January, people greet each other with the same. Not adhering to this protocol constitutes a social gaffe.
After years of practice, I usually remember such codes. But occasionally I lapse and forget the correct ritual. It happened last week. A friend’s parents had returned from their winter home in the South of France to Paris and I had not seen them since before the holidays. Instead of the appropriate New Year’s salutation, I launched headlong into the “how was your stay/trip” greeting. I didn’t realize my faux pas until the question hung for several seconds languishing in conversational dead space.
The usual response in Paris when someone doesn’t follow convention is a retort with what the person should have said. A chastising look generally accompanies the correction. But Madame C didn’t follow custom. Instead she countered, “Meilleure année, Mayanne!”
Oh dear. The error must have been greater than I thought. But what could I do? I couldn’t rewind and start over. I forced myself to make eye contact and willed the muscles in my face back to neutral, then pleasant. It must have worked for she continued, “Well, 2015 was a rotten year for everybody, right? So, I think we ought to wish people a “better year”. It’s more appropriate.”
Madame C looked at me in earnest. I eventually smiled, and then agreed. I too wished her a better year. The moment passed. She then went on to describe how it had rained and rained and rained in the South of France, how she and her husband might as well have never left Paris. The gesture was kind and my error forgiven.
2015 did bring clouds of hardship and storms to many. Friends lost parents and spouses. They lost innocence, security, identity, and sometimes hope. Therefore, in accordance with French custom which dictates that we have until January 31 to express our meilleurs voeux (best wishes), I wish all of those who have lost so much and you, dear reader, a Meilleure année!