I grew up on Long Island across the street from an elderly couple who always began Halloween preparations in early September. Each day, between the time I woke up and the time the bus would screech to a halt just inches from my mailbox, there would be a new spooky character sitting on their lawn.
Throughout the years, I grew accustomed to directing our mailman to deliver two sets of letters to our mailbox because the one across the street was nailed shut as part of a Dexter’s Laboratory cabinet setup. The candy bubble-blowing pumpkin, my personal favorite, became an object of fascination for neighborhood children and raccoons alike. And last year, a block party was considered when — after ten years of modifications and an army of helium tanks — the couple finally got the balloon spider’s nineteen legs to support its over-bloated belly.
Now here I am in Paris, where wine is cheaper than water, and there’s enough cheese to satisfy any Pixar rat. But after a two-day search through various marketplaces just to locate a pumpkin sizeable enough to survive a carving session, followed by a confusing conversation with my host brother about why I was hacking at said pumpkin on the kitchen table, I knew celebrating Halloween away from home was going to be the wrong kind of horror show.
The week leading up to the big day, I walked through the 15th arrondissement and noticed that — aside from a single orange balloon deflating in a corner shop window — Halloween n’existe pas.
Deciding that perhaps this particular city was just too grown-up for the holiday, I joined a group of American study abroad students for a trip to Parc Astérix just in time for a peur sur le parc adventure. Parc Astérix, reachable from Paris proper by a combination of metro, train, and bus, is the French answer to Disneyland. It’s based on the popular comic Astérix and Obélix, with a Greek and Roman ruins theme that makes it a fun place even for those who can’t stand any ride going faster than normal jogging pace.
As we waited in line for the bus, I looked for signs of hope, evidence that the Halloween-faithful still walked among us. Thirteen out of 150 line stragglers were dressed in Halloween gear: three were vampires, four had on witches’ hats, and the six others had on striped tights. But their costumes were so uninspired and unenthusiastic that the vampires could have used an infusion of new blood and the witches needed some magic — black or any other color would have sufficed. I’ve seen people more creatively dressed as they made their zombie-like walks to winter quarter 8 a.m. classes.
Parc Astérix tried, but the effort was as anemic as the neck of a vampire’s thrice-weekly victim. As we entered the park, statues lining the streets were garbed in Halloween get-ups, but only the non-French speakers paid them any attention. There was Astérix as Dracula, Obélix as a dumpy witch and their sidekick puppy as an unconvincing dinosaur. No reaction. Crowds of excited children passed the two-story-high foaming witches’ brew without a second glance. The lopsided castle towering in the background, draped in black and covered with cobwebs, excited just enough interest for one hasty snapshot at best.
These well-meaning tricks were no treat at all.
While I am used to the barely-concealed boredom or confusion on parents’ faces as their children jabber about Halloween, I can’t imagine a whole city’s indifference to the allure of joyful spookdom. Here I was, 3000 miles away from home, trying to grasp at those last strings of childhood goblin-induced glee, and the general feeling of indifference was damn near breaking my heart.
As I wandered back to my apartment in the morning, I decided that the French really don’t need an excuse to consume an exorbitant amount of sugar; every morning’s breakfast is a competition to eat as much chocolate as possible anyway. But for me, Halloween wasn’t the day when I wanted to branch out and embrace another culture. Give me my jack-o-lanterns, my hometown vampires and yes, even someone’s front lawn that looks like the Addams family is having a yard sale. And while I’ll miss the three-hour dinners with my host family and the well-done steak that’s still moving on the plate, what I’m really looking forward to is the next Halloween when I can glance out of my window and be greeted by the latest addition to my neighbor’s yard: Severus Snape’s cauldron of sparkling grape juice. Who needs French wine, anyway, on Oct. 31?