There’s no doubt about it, Paris is certainly one of the places to be around Christmastime. Though Christmas lights are turned on slightly later than on the other side of the Channel, Christmas spirit is still in the air. I feel rather lucky to be here at this time of year, and it gives me that warm fuzzy feeling that you get when walking around starry-eyed through Christmas markets and down light-clad streets.

Even for a cash-strapped student on their year abroad, just their window display is enough to want to spend hours inside.

Businesses are getting a big boost at the moment: at my local shopping centre all the shops are open specially on all the Sundays of December, including Christmas Eve! They also don’t spare on the Christmas decorations: lights are hung across the ceiling; small Christmas trees are up outside the doors and snowflakes decorate shop windows. However, despite all this effort, according to Marketsinsider, French shoppers are planning to spend more online this year compared to the last, with a spend of an average of €203 per person, which is up by 4% from last year. I have to say that even I have already been tempted by the ease of online shopping, as the thought of scrambling for last-minute presents in busy shops sends a shiver up my spine. This hasn’t stopped bigger Parisian shops such as the famous Galeries Lafayette from inviting consumers to spend their well-earned cash in store. Even for a cash-strapped student on their year abroad, just their window display is enough to want to spend hours inside.

Image: Daina Auzins

This has me thinking about online shopping trends. In the UK, it’s fairly easy to order online and pick up your order from a local shop. However, shopping online in France means that most of the time, you have to spend a certain amount of money before picking it up yourself. This is similar to the UK, though from what I’ve observed this seems to be more the norm in France. Even normal delivery charges seem expensive compared to the UK, but that’s just how it seems to be, you have to accept that it’s going to be more expensive, as any year abroad generally is. Having said that, I’ve found it easier just to go to a shop and buy the item I want instead of going online. Yes, there will be a queue, but it’s really not that much time compared to the amount of time you’d have to wait for a parcel to arrive. That way, you also save on a delivery charge. Though I do see why people I’ve met here say that it’s easier to shop online. A colleague of mine says that shops are too busy, especially at this time of year, and it makes for an unpleasant shopping experience.

Image: Daina Auzins

Furthermore, one thing that is definitely at the top of the Christmas shopping list here in France is food. When I’m standing in the seemingly interminable queue at the supermarket, I hold my breath at the sums I see on the little screen at the checkout. However, there is a good reason for this: simply that the French love their food, and Christmas is no different. Traditional fare includes oysters, meat like goose or guinea fowl and foie gras, as well as cheese of course, so this is certainly a time the French use to indulge. Supermarket shelves are also stacked high with chocolates (Ferrero Rocher anyone?) and marrons glacés (candied chestnuts), as well as enough decorations to deck out your whole house. Dessert may typically be a bûche de Noël (or chocolate log), and not surprisingly, people don’t really know what Christmas pudding is, most of the people I’ve chatted to about this haven’t even heard of it. Not that there’s anything wrong with this, I find it refreshing to see the cultural differences.

Interestingly, and this is something I’ve only found out since I’ve been here, Boxing Day doesn’t exist in France. While this is thankfully a day off for me this year, most French people will be heading back to work on the 26th December. This may seem strange, but there just isn’t Boxing Day. Meanwhile, shops in the UK start their sales early, whereas in France clothes shops tend to start their New Year sales at the beginning of January. Despite sales being later, this doesn’t stop people crowding into shops in the few weeks leading up to Christmas.

Image: Daina Auzins

Wherever you are around Christmas and whatever traditions you follow, take advantage to look around you, take in the sights and enjoy the festive season. After all, it only comes around once a year!

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