Julia Hamilton

Pumpkin Spice

Julia Hamilton
Pumpkin Spice

I’m sure we can all agree that America’s holiday season comes with a heaping helping of rampant consumerism, something at which is it easy to turn up one’s nose. I'm realizing, though, that I am no better than my country’s obnoxious marketing schemes. Existing in America from October to January is like living as a hostage of the world's most persistent telemarketer, and, apparently, I miss that.

Now, this isn’t to say that France isn’t guilty of similarly contagious consumerism, as it’s got a some capitalism going for it too, and so I’m still bombarded by radio ads, commercials, posters, and the like. It’s just that they haven’t all united around a single theme yet, whereas in America I know that starting a month ago every grocery store was ⅓ Halloween, ⅓  Christmas and Thanksgiving, and ⅓ everything else. It’s ridiculous, yes, but apparently it’s what taught me when to feel what throughout the year. Especially in Memphis, where the beginning of October doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s all that cold, I knew when it was time to start getting jazzed for spooky scary skeletons thanks to the transformation of the candy aisle. In Saint-Nazaire, I only saw one Halloween-themed ad at the bus stops, “Une soif monstrueuse?” for Fanta, which made me think at the time: oh right, it is October. I could complete an entire grocery haul without once feeling tempted by a looming, monster sized trick-or-treat fun pack. Sure it’s better for my wallet and for my digestion, but what about that special holiday feeling?

As for Halloween night itself, for the first time in twenty-two years, I did absolutely nothing. Didn’t even try to stream Hocus Pocus from my bed or eat a single candy bar, be it holiday-themed or no. Granted, that was mostly because I was having fun in London during a quick three-day stay with a bunch of French people who generally don’t do Halloween, so maybe if I were at the house alone instead of at a nice but non-observant bar, I would have made an effort at the very least. While London was much more Halloween-friendly than Saint-Nazaire or even Paris, with some costume shops and a couple streets decked out with oversized spider decorations, it still wasn’t quite enough to shake me out of my October apathy. I did do a quick lesson on Halloween in America for the kids before I left, and my family shipped me a marvelous but unnecessarily expensive box of candy that I received a couple days late, but for the most part I just sat and watched the holiday float on by without so much as a pumpkin on my porch.

Thankfully, there is some hope for December festivities, as Christmas markets are definitely a fun and twinkly thing here, but there’s obviously no chance for Thanksgiving. However, as that’s my second favorite holiday, I am determined to stuff my face at an irresponsibly large meal at some point even if I cook it all by and for myself. Surprisingly, though, what’s also been getting me is the lack of that one tangy blend that really ties the American holiday experience together. Apparently I need something to put a little pumpkin spice back into my life.

The weird thing is that I don’t necessarily crave the corresponding latte, seeing as my body has a very complicated relationship with coffee, and the last time I bought one I couldn’t even finish it. There’s just something about the marketing revolution that the pumpkin spice latte brought about that I find delightfully ridiculous, and apparently iconically American, as none of that has come to roost here in France. I love seeing what all the marketing executives decide can be transformed into pumpkin spice, from the more obvious desserts and candles to things like bagels, english muffins, even scented toilet paper. Starting in the Fall, the combination of nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, what have you, just turns America into a pumpkin spice adventureland, and I’m just over here wishing I could jump back on that ride.

Obviously, this is something I could remedy in my Saint-Nazaire home, as the individual spices that make up the blend are readily available, and I could just whip up some pumpkiny treats in my kitchen, which I will probably do at some point, but it’s not quite the same. My parents did include some pumpkin-spice biscotti in their Halloween package, for which I am very thankful, but I really just want the current consumerist landscape to throw pumpkins and skeletons and manufactured morals in my face with no way out. America sort of knows it’s a joke, but France is much too subdued and sophisticated an environment for that, even though I bet it could do some magic with pumpkin-spiced cheeses if it didn’t take itself quite so seriously. So what if French cuisine is one of the most refined, elegant, and well-respected culinary landscapes in the world? Live a little.

I guess what I’m trying to say is here is that I am but a shell of a human who craves an invasive media landscape to tell her how to properly buy happiness through capitalist holiday rituals. We all have our guilty pleasures. I’m just standing in my truth. Happy holidays, even if it doesn’t feel like it yet.

Thanks y’all,