I spent this past weekend in the north of France, in Lille and Dunkerque, for the Carnaal de Dunkerque. Perhaps the Ch'tis get mocked by the French but not by this American girl. 1. They're food is ungodly good. If I lived there, I would definitely gain about... 50 pounds, but hey, I'd be happy. I had fried Camembert with frites, and I thought I had died and go to fatty-foods heaven. 2. They definitely know how to have a good party.
The beach in Dunkerque.
Okay so let me explain the Carnaval. I guess it's what Americans would call a festival except everyone dresses in crazy costumes. Typically men dress as women in the most tacky and outlandish dresses with clashing tights and boas and whatever else they can find. Everyone also puts on a full face of makeup (my friends decided to give me a nice black unibrow and a huge clown smile), wears masks, wigs, or hats. It's absolutely ridiculous and oh so entertaining.
Did I mention that everyone drinks heavily during this extravaganza? It'll be important for the next part of the story.
As you have just about taken all of these glorious sights in, a procession leads you to a square in front of the mayor's office. This is where things got a little dicey for me, and the alcohol became necessary. Everyone packs themselves into the square and pushes themselves to the very front in order to catch the fish which are being thrown from the office. Yes, they throw fish at people. At the end, they throw a few lobsters which are apparently extra special.
The people in the windows are throwing fish into the crowd.
It gets pretty rough in this crowd. I was thrown and pushed in every direction, I broke my shoe, and was almost strangled a few times thanks to my boas. I also have a few really awesome bruises that I love to show off as battle wounds. Anyway, as I started worrying about my well being and dying alone in a sea of drunken people hungry for some fish, I left the center and made my way to the outside of the crowd. Not an easy task by the way. My friends and I had a meeting point because it was pretty much inevitable that we would get separated, so that came in handy. Otherwise, I would be living in Dunkerque right now.
After the fish catching, everyone links arms and walks through the streets. Unfortunately we missed this part because our bladders had needs (girls ya know?), and speaking of which, I peed in the street in front of hundreds of people. Not my proudest moment, but when you gotta go, you gotta go.
Yup, that just happened. They saw... they all saw.
I also did not mention that random people come up to you give you a zeutch, or kiss, on the mouth. It's said that back in the day, if you were married in Dunkerque, the only time when it was acceptable to cheat on your spouse was at the Carnaval. Cute. Well the tradition lived on, but it's really not as scandalous as it sounds. I was terrified of old gross men forcibly kissing me and slipping me the tongue. However, it's really very tame, and I only received one zeutch (I like to blame my unibrow for my unpopularity).
After a break, you then all join together around a merry-go-round, link arms, and continue crushing each other while running in a circle. You also sing traditional French and Ch'tis songs during this event and the whole festival. Obviously, I knew none of them.
We ended the night by forming a random dance party in front of a bar where I learned, again, that I am completely ignorant of all popular French songs.
Sorry for the poor quality, but this is our dance party
So to sum up - fish, kissing, and costumes - what do they have to do with each other? I have absolutely no idea, but whatever, it's fun, so it doesn't matter. The Carnaval was definitely an experience, to say the least, but despite what I thought before, I will be going again one day. Although it may take me a few years to prepare myself.