Tuesday, December 15, 2009


While for me I don't feel that writing about France is so much writing about being in a foreign country anymore as it is about writing about what I now consider my home, there are times that I feel like I'm in an alien land.

Take this last weekend's SantaCon, for example.  Santa Sparkle and I prefer to Frenchify it and call it "SantaConnerie." Not because we're calling for the sainthood of Sean Connery. He's already a knight, for crying out loud... but the French word derived from con, meaning "idiot," and its inherited form connerie, meaning "shit only a goddamn idiot would do." Because, to us, SantaCon is about going out en masse and getting stupid. While fueled on liquor. And, well, there was plenty of that. But there were also plenty of those alienating things that you'd think I'd be used to by now.

Let's rewind to last year, SantaCon Paris 2008. Here are some pictures. Really tame, right? It was mellow, and we Yanks were the only ones to show up with flasks, but it was pleasant – we really did roam around Paris spreading holiday cheer. It was almost naïve and innocent, and while not at all what we expected, we liked this nicety-nice version of SantaCon. Even if it wasn't the booze-fueled anarchic mayhem we're accustomed to.

So it was nice to see earlier promotion this year, and more people showing interest, with the Facebook page gathering more "Will Attends" in the first month than we had in total last year.  And suddenly it really grew. With a new flyer design and a few promotional videos (ummm, okay) there were hundreds interested in joining the fun. Was this going to be the Naughty version we'd left in our beloved San Francisco? Or was it going to be like last year's Nice version we'd come to like, only on a larger scale?

So once you get past the cheesy ending (sorry, sometimes I can't help myself, but I wanted an excuse to use some slappin' bass), did you see anything else wrong with the picture?

Let's start with the Santa pageant. Or whatever the fuck that was. While Santas participating in SantaCon are encouraged to come up with a Santa "persona," and there were certainly some admirably creative ones, it's meant to be a group movement. In no past SantaCon have we highlighted individuals, but celebrated our coming together en masse to delight, surprise, and sometimes disgust passersby. The eventual winner of "Miss SantaCon" had invited Sparkle to come out and participate, but she refused on principle. As she kept asking me during the whole timefuck, "When are we going to start drinking?"

Luckily that was a rhetorical question. Santa Black and Santa Sparkle, like all good bad Santas, came equipped with flasks. Again, we were the only ones, but I'll chalk that up to something Paris does better: There's no open container law here, so you don't have to hide your hooch... Still, a flask (or two or three) is SantaCon tradition, god dammit.

What was wrong in the beverage department was the Red Bull. While I'm not opposed to the taurine-powered mixer (it is a MIXER, not a drink on its own), I was appalled to see two women in Red Bull jackets carrying a portable Red Bull-branded cooler, handing out the little silver cylinders of energy drink. Last I remember, Santarchy began as a cheeky rebellion against commercialization. Here, people were glad to suck the corporate dick 60ml can.

The over-organized march was fine. While extremely lacking in drink stops, it brought a distinctly French flavor to SantaCon: That of the grève, or strike, if you will. Striking is ingrained into French culture, and it was actually a ton of fun turning typical strike chants into Santa-related mockery. Liberez les sapins !  Liberez les lutins !  Liberez [whatever we happened to be passing by]!  Taking over a Left Bank boulevard was pretty awesome, too. But would anyone have had the cojones to do it if we didn't have a police escort?

When we finally did stop at a bar – one of many same-ol' same-ol' Anglo-Saxon themed pubs throughout Paris – at least there was a drink special on hand, helping the lightweights around us get wasted.

We got moving again, on to the crescendo that was Notre Dame, and in all spent a couple of hours dicking around before the second and (what... the... fuck...) last bar stop. Worse off, at another English pub (ok, the first was Scottish) in our very own neighborhood that Sparkle and I don't particularly like.  We'd been there before for the Couchsurfing pub quiz on Monday nights and decided that we hate The Lions. The bartenders are slow, don't know how to manage a crowd, and spend more time chatting with their buddies than doing their job.

"Wait," you might say if you're familiar with SantaCon. "Why did you go there? Why didn't you just storm another bar?"

Well, Sparkle and I did (the much more locals-oriented Le Tambour down the street), and didn't look back. The real trouble with the Lions wasn't the Lions itself: It's shitty, but it's roomy. No, it became clear that we were led to a Couchsurfing spot, by Couchsurfing people, catering to a Couchsurfing crowd.

Let me iterate, I like Couchsurfing. It's a good organization (despite some dickheads trying to turn it into a for-profit venture a while back) and makes for fantastic networking. But to be led at the end of the evening to their shit hangout to get shit service at shit prices... What. The. Fuck.

You may as well have hung up a Couchsurfing banner over Place Monge where we met up. Oh, what? Someone was wearing one as a cape? You don't say...

The trouble here is that SantaCon isn't supposed to be owned, sponsored, or cater particularly to anyone. It was born of an anarchic spirit of self-expression and anti-commercialization, to bring joie de vivre back to the now long fucked-over holidays. How that's expressed is entirely up to the city and the crowd participating in it, but for the love of Saint Nick, do it as differently as you want, but remember what it's all about.

Now I'm not claiming San Francisco's superiority. While I'll stand by the statement that we are the world champions of drinking, SantaCon SF started to lose its way a few years ago, starting with its advertising of the event (again, WTF!?) on a douchebag nightlife web site. I won't mention any names, but it rhymes with ViteNibe. There are now three official routes, and many official bars. Can I say "WTF!?" again?

Back in my day, there was a starting point, a rough ending point, and every bar along the (not particularly rigid) route was ripe for an unannounced invasion. Some bartenders didn't like it. Some welcomed the opportunity to do a week's worth of business in less than an hour.

But don't take this as a curmudgeonly gripe. My crankiness comes from nothing more than misplaced hope. I was hoping that with SantaCon Paris being a relative toddler on the global scene, it could bring back some of the anarchic, free-for-all spirit of the old days. Channeling the soixante-huitards and Théatre de l'Absurde into one glorious day. A haven for the slightly surly but loving Santa in all of us, who's both a mean drunk and a genuinely fun person to be around.

In the process of editing the video above, I received a friendly note from one of the organizers, who's got no problem with my gripes. This rundown is a bit more developed than my Tweets and status updates to which he was responding, and potentially more inflammatory.  (Just in case it isn't inflammatory enough: FUCK YOUR LIONS PUB.)

BUT... We'll be back again, flasks in hand, regardless of how over-organized or over-commercialized it may get. No one can crush these two Santas' spirits. After all, we'll full of 'em.