French calendars are an institution and a tradition, and they are still incredibly popular as soon as the year draws to a close.
I do not use calendars myself, as I tend to rely on the connected one lodged inside my smartphone, but last month, late November, I was feeling rather Chrismassy and wanted to be just a bit more like the French. So I embraced the tradition whole heartedly and joined into the festive spirit leading up to the end of year celebrations: I ended up spending over 50 euros on some (sometimes seriously tacky) French calendars.
I ended up buying two from the fire brigade, one from the Judo club, another one from a cancer charity, a La Poste calendar, one from our “éboueurs” (our refuse collectors) and finally, one from our insurance company.
France definitely seems to be a country of calendars. Buying and selling calendars from November onwards is part of the culture. Officially, the amount paid is up to the buyer, but the general rule is that people are not expected to give less than 10 euros per calendar, mostly in order to make it worth the seller’s while (they generally go door to door in their own time (evenings and weekends) instead of during working hours). The amount you give depends on your appreciation of the value of the professional, or the trade they represent and is generally paid in cash or by cheque (cheques are still widely accepted in France).
When someone knocks on the door, it can be very difficult to refuse. All of these causes are such worthwhile ones that I am unable to say ‘No’ when someone offers me a calendar. I not only feel embarrassed, but also guilty, especially bearing in mind that we are usually half-way through dinner when they knock on the door, or worse still, still in bed on a Sunday morning and having to rush to the door wearing a dressing gown. I always feel pretty stupid if I try to decline (even politely) and certainly feel terribly mean refusing to fork out 10 euros dressed in my nightie. It doesn’t seem like they are going to take me seriously!
The only answer would be NOT to answer the door any more until Christmas is over, but this is something I am quite incapable of doing. So every year, I reluctantly end up with more and more calendars, except for this year, when I made a conscious decision to join in.
Some of the calendars can actually prove very useful. For instance, the fire brigade one lists all the emergency numbers people can need in France, among other bits of info.
The post office calendar is also full of very useful information (unless you buy the 2-sided cardboard version, much more basic, which is also found more and more frequently). It can feature a lunar calendar for gardeners, a map of the area or even one of the nearest city, all the various saints’ names (one per day), as well as useful addresses and phone numbers of local businesses, etc.
Usually, the calendars feature photos of cute kitten and puppies or of flowers and pretty sceneries. The fire brigade one is somewhat more serious, with pictures of firefighters at work or of their various firefighting equipment. I am yet to see one with Mr January, Mr February, etc. But one can always hope… perhaps next year?
One point worth mentioning is that the money raised by the fire brigade through the sale of the annual calendars is usually collected and donated to their various social projects (for example, the children and widows of deceased firefighters). The income doesn’t go into their own personal pocket.