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Carnivals, pancakes and excess: What Mardi Gras means in France

Mardi Gras is upon us and in France that means it's time to eat, dress up and hit the local carnival. Here's what you need to know about how to celebrate 'fat Tuesday' the French way.

Carnivals, pancakes and excess: What Mardi Gras means in France
The costume is optional if you're heading to a carnival. Photo: AFP
Here's what you need to know about joining in with the fun of Mardi Gras in France. 
Where does it come from?
The festival, which was adopted by the Christians from a Pagan festival, marks the last day before Lent when people traditionally fast for 40 days and 40 nights. 
That means Mardi Gras is all about eating and celebrating in excess before the period of moderation and self-denial begins – hence the English translation of Mardi Gras – Fat Tuesday.
This year it falls on Tuesday, February 25th.
Nice Carnival. Photo: AFP
During Lent, Christians are traditionally supposed to abstain from meat, eggs, as well as sugary and fatty foods.  
But even if you're not religious, Mardi Gras in France is still used as an excuse to eat some delicious treats and, of course, party. 
What are the culinary specialties of Mardi Gras?
Mardi Gras – known as Shrove Tuesday in Anglophone countries – is also known as Pancake Day.
This is because people used to use the opportunity to use up any left over eggs in the cupboard before the start of Lent. 
However France already has a separate pancake day – the endearingly bonkers festival of La Chandeleur – so although crêpes are eaten on Mardi Gras, there are plenty of other special foods.
Photo: Jack Zalium/Flickr
In the historical south-central region of the Limousin people eat prune pie made with brioche dough. 
And small donuts are popular around the country.
In Lyon they are called bugnes, and in Bordeaux and Provence they're known as merveilles and oreillettes, respectively. 
They can be made with lemon, orange blossom or vanilla. And some are stuffed with jam or chocolate.
Waffles are also a popular sweet treat over Mardi Gras. 
And what about the carnivals?
Carnival is all about letting off some steam. 
Originally Mardi Gras marked the last day of the festivities and was considered the ultimate day of celebration.
Today most French people associate Mardi Gras with wearing disguises or fancy dress, with nearly nine out of ten of them considering it a time for children to dress up and party.
Photo: AFP
The most famous carnivals in France are in Nice, which is known for its stunning floats, and Dunkerque, where herring are thrown into the crowd. 
Nice Carnival started on February 15th and runs until February 29th, while in Dunkerque the carnival takes place in the lead up to the festival the carnival starts on Sunday, February 23rd and runs until Mardi Gras itself. Watch out for the flying herring.
Where is Mardi Gras celebrated most in France?
Mardi Gras is most popular in the north of France, with 40 percent of people in the Hauts-de-France region celebrating the festival.
Brittany is just one exception to the rule, where only 18 percent of people celebrate Mardi Gras, according to a recent poll. 


Everything you need to know about France’s 2022 summer sales

In France, you can only shop the best deals twice a year - during the soldes. Here is everything you need to know about this year's summer sales.

Everything you need to know about France's 2022 summer sales

They happen twice a year – Each year, France has two soldes periods: one in the winter, usually starting January, and another in the summer, usually starting in June.

This summer, the soldes will start on Wednesday, June 22nd in most parts of France and run for four weeks, so even though you might be tempted to go on the first day, keep in mind they’ll be going on for a while.

They are progressive, so items will be continuously marked down as the soldes wear on. If you wait, you are risking that your favourite t-shirt might sell out quickly, but if you’re lucky it might end up marked down even further.

During 2020 and 2021 the government altered sales dates and time periods to help shops cope with closures and lockdowns, but now we’re back to the usual timetable.

This is the only time stores can have “sales” – Technically, the soldes are the only time that stores are allowed to have sales, but the definition of ‘sale’ is important.

Basically, the French government qualifies a ‘solde‘ as the store selling an item for less than they purchased it for.

During the rest of the year discounting is allowed in certain circumstances, so you might see promotions or vente privée (private sales, usually short-term events aimed at regular customers or loyalty-card holders) throughout the year.

In these situations the stores might be selling items for less than their original price, but they are not permitted to sell the item for less than they bought it for. 

Shops are also permitted to have closing-down sales if they are shutting down, or closing temporarily for refurbishment.

They are strictly regulated by the French government – Everything from how long the soldes go for to the consumer protection rules that apply to the very definition of ‘solde’ is regulated by the French government, and the main purpose of this is to protect small independent businesses which might not be able to offer the same level of discounts as the big chains and multi-national companies.

Whether you shop in person or online, the same rules apply.

As a consumer, you still have the same rights as non-sales times regarding broken or malfunctioning items – meaning you ought to be entitled to a refund if the item has not been expressly indicated as faulty. The French term is vice caché, referring to discovering a defect after purchase.

On top of that, stores must be clear about which items are reduced and which are not – and must display the original price on the label as well as the sale price and percentage discount. 

READ MORE: Your consumer rights for French sales

They started in the 19th century – France’s soldes started in the 19th century, alongside the growth of department stores who had the need to regularly renew their stock – and get rid of leftover items.

Simon Mannoury, who founded the first Parisian department store “Petit Saint-Thomas” in 1830, came up with the idea.

Funnily enough, this department store actually is the ancestor for the famous department store Le Bon Marché. His goal was to sell off the previous season’s unsold stock in order to replace it with new products.

In order to do this, Mannoury offered heavy discounts to sell as much merchandise as possible in a limited time.

The soldes start at different times depending on where you live – The sales start at the same time across most of mainland France, but there are exceptions for overseas France and certain départements, usually those along the border.

France’s finance ministry allows for the sales to start at different times based on local economies and tourist seasons. 

For the summer 2022 sales only two parts of metropolitan France have different dates; Alpes-Maritimes sales run from July 6th to August 2nd, while on the island of Corsica they run from July 13th to August 9th.

In France’s overseas territories the sales are held later in the year.

You might qualify for a tax rebate – If you are resident outside the EU, you might be eligible for a tax rebate on your sales purchases.

If you spend at least €100 in one store, then you qualify. You should hold onto your receipt and tell the cashier you plan to use a tax rebate so they can give you the necessary documentation (a duty-free slip).

Then when you are leaving you can find the kiosk at the station or airport dedicated to tax rebates (détaxe) and file prior to leaving France. For more information read HERE