My Scottish blood stirred at the first droning of the pipes. Seated at Café Mari on rue d’Alembert on a recent Saturday night, I knew we were in for an evening to remember! But wait, we’re in FRANCE, land of romantic music, superior wine, and gourmet food. As the joke goes, that’s nothing the Scots have ever been accused of! (I can say this as one who is Scots-American.) However, this was an opportunity that we didn’t want to miss. Where else could two Americans sit in a French café listening to Scottish music and Robert Burns’s poetry, while eating food best described as being based on a dare but in our adopted home town of Grenoble, France?
Both Steve and I had a great time, but, of course, we were coming at this from two very different heritages. Steve was raised with some of the Hungarian traditions of his maternal grandparents. I was raised with the traditions of what could best be described of as a mutt. My paternal grandparents were from Scotland, but my household was run by my mother and was typically American, and we practiced few Scottish traditions, except for eating the occasional store-purchased Scottish shortbread.
Our dear French friend Huguette had told us at one of our language exchange groups about an upcoming Burns fête (celebrations). Huguette, a French woman who had married an Englishman long ago, had made her home in England for many years. After she returned to France, she continued to be an anglophile. That evening, we met her at the café and commandeered a table. French words were flowing all about us, and it was only when we introduced ourselves to some of the other guests that we detected the overwhelming Scottish, Irish, and British accents. Listening to a French native speak English with a Scottish accent is an interesting aural experience. The Celtic Connection, the group that organized the evening, is made up of those in Grenoble wishing to promote mainly Irish culture, but they seem to look beyond the rivalries between the diverse British Isles countries to enjoy this Scottish fête together.
Never having attended a Burns Supper, I wasn’t sure of what to expect. Because Robbie Burns is considered a Scottish national treasure, the entire evening revolved around the man and his poetry. On the tartan-clad tables were papers containing the “Running Order” (agenda?) of the evening. It went like this: Toast and a Wee Dram (a shot of scotch or a drink of your choice); Robert Burns’s “The Selkirk Grace” (see below); First Course; Address to a Haggis (Hello, Haggis!); Haggis warm ‘n reekin wi’ champit tatties, mashed neeps, and anither Wee Dram; The Rights of Woman; Third Course; The Immortal Memory; A Toast to the Lassies and anither Wee Dram; Reply and anither Wee Dram; and “A Man’s a Man for A’That” (and the text & translation). We had no idea what it was all about, but we guessed there was going to be a wee bit of drinking involved.
In true Scottish tradition, the official start of the evening began with the (bag)piping in of the guests. In this tiny café, the loudness of those pipes explained why my father and all his siblings suffered hearing losses. The piper, a Frenchman in a kilt who learned the pipes from his father, knew all the old standby Scottish tunes. Once everyone was seated, the festivities proceeded all in English, or what I guessed was English, although it was hard for me to tell considering the Scottish accents.
The highlight of the evening was, of course, the aforementioned haggis. (Only click on the link if you really want to know what is in it. Yes, I can see your faces!) Thank goodness for the tatties and neeps and good old French bread; otherwise, I would have been left very hungry. There wasn’t much floor space for dancing, but that didn’t stop a good number of the revelers, as you’ll see in the video at the end of the post. Remember, monitor the sound on your computer. You do value your hearing, don’t you?
Steve has refrained from saying too much about the evening. I think he is still speechless regarding the wonders of Scottish tradition. I do know that he did enjoy the toasts with their accompanying whiskey, and like me, he found this Scottish celebration a refreshing experience in our little corner of France.
Wee Dram: a shot of scotch or a drink of your choice
Selkirk grace: Some hae meat and canna eat,
and some wad eat that want it,
but we hae meat and we can eat,
and sae the Lord be thankit.
champit tatties, mashed neeps: mashed potatoes and turnip
One of Steve’s Favorite Jokes:
Q: Why do the pipers walk when they play?
A: To get away from the sound.