Today is Bastille Day—le quatorze juillet, in French—France’s National Day that commemorates the storming of the Bastille, an event that helped catapult the French Revolution in 1789. France has had much to celebrate this year, but also much to mourn, in light of the January 7th terrorist attacks on Charlie Hebdo’s headquarters in Paris.
It’s often the case that when there’s a threat at home, ex-pat communities living abroad will more fervently cling to a shared national identity, and forge a stronger sense of community. We spoke with Alexandre Lambert, a brand ambassador for Les Vins Philippe Dandurand, an international wine importer. Lambert discussed the significance of the holiday, especially in the wake of the Hebdo attacks, as well as traditional ways of celebrating and imbibing.
What’s the significance for you of Bastille Day?
Bastille Day has always been sort of just a bank holiday, a day off from work. In France you feel it more than abroad, naturally; the President gives a speech, there’s a televised parade. But it’s nothing like the Fourth of July. It’s not a day we cherish or look forward to.
Do you think that people will celebrate differently this year, after the Hebdo attacks? Will they be more fervent, in the same way that we saw Americans rallying after 9/11?
It’s possible. But in general, I don’t think France is as patriotic a nation as the US. We are a less nationalistic, we just don’t really wave the flag the same way you’d see in America.
Do you feel the attacks have affected the French ex-pat community? Do you feel a stronger solidarity?
Oh, for sure the community is affected. We talk a lot about what happened back home, how the incident will change things, what will happen next. It comes up a lot in conversation, and though we’re not a particularly nationalistic people, it certainly impacts us. It’s our country, after all.
How do people normally celebrate the holiday in France? What do they normally drink—is there a traditional drink that people general consume on the holiday?
Well since it’s a bank holiday, many people spend it with their families, either at home or at a restaurant with a special prix-fixe menu. They might stay in and open an aged bottle of wine. Or have a glass of Champagne or a nice glass of Bordeaux. It’s a quieter holiday than you might imagine, especially if comparing it to the American equivalent!