“Oooh, that makes sense. I thought you were talking about Jello.”
“You know, Jello.”
They didn’t know.
“Billy Cosby? J-E-L-L-O! It’s aaaaaliiiiiiive!?”
No. Now I looked like the crazy one.
“What are you talking about? What’s Jello?” Diel asked.
What is Jello? Well. If you’ve never eaten at a hospital or summer camp in the US and haven’t grown up with wobbling, green, cottage-cheese and canned fruit cocktail-filled, church-pot-luck “salads,” or rubbery, animal-shaped, unnaturally-colored jigglers, that is a very difficult question to answer.
“It’s this gelatin-based, fake fruit-flavored ‘food’ ...”
“How do you eat it?”
“Oh, um, mixed with fruit, or cut into cubes or (and this is where it all began) as Jello shots made with alcohol instead of water. It kind of tastes like a semi-solid, alcoholic gummy bear. You know, people make them for parties and stuff.”
The idea spiraled from me bringing back a box of Jello so they could all try a Jello shot to us throwing a full-out, college-style, American Party. I would stock up on authentic supplies while I was home for Christmas, and they would all come dressed-up as “Americans.”
I’ve spent most of the past two years in France and Switzerland trying to overcome the general perceptions of Americans. Some of us love to travel, can speak other languages, are interested in hearing about you and your culture, don’t wear flip flops in public, and didn’t like Bush either etc. Well, two steps forward, one step back. The unofficial subtitle for the event was, “American Party: Come so Brianne can confirm every stereotype you’ve ever had.”
I was concerned when I went home for Christmas that I might not be able to find Fourth of July decorations in the middle of December, but Dollar General pulled through in all of its out-of-season, kitsch splendor. For the meager sum of eight dollars, I got party supplies beyond what I could have hoped for: two Giant, plastic American flags; red, white and blue bunting; a set of “God Bless America” luminaries; and (personal favorite) USA! temporary tattoos. A short stop at Meijer for Jello, brownies and chocolate chips and the state-side preparation was complete.
Here in Switzerland, they say the year has five seasons: Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter and Fasnacht. I suppose the best translation for Fasnacht is “Carnival” in the historical sense, not in the ferris wheel, corn dog sense. It’s a week-long party where everyone dresses up, throws confetti, drinks too much coffee Schnapps, and dances in the streets until the wee hours of the morning. It’s rather like Halloween on steroids for adults meets Mardis Gras meets Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade meets high school marching band. Now you all have a very clear picture in your imaginations, right??
From what I’ve been able to gather from various sources (ie: friends and wikipedia), Fasnacht is a celebration that has its origins in several cultural traditions and historical events. In the mid-fifteenth century on March 6th, what is now the central part of Switzerland decisively defeated and kicked out the Austrians. When you’re Catholic, an event of such magnitude deserves a Huge Party. When you’re Catholic, that Huge Party can’t be near as much fun if it takes place during Lent. So, they decided to move the celebration to the first Thursday of the weekend before Lent. So far so good. But why the dressing-up and why the brass band music?
Apparently over the course of the centuries, the Celtic tradition of dressing-up and dancing to chase out the winter spirits so that the spring spirits can come made its way south and the traditions fuzed. (There is also some story in Luzern about a man named “Friechli” or something who comes on a boat with his family to official start the festival and is occasionally stolen by other towns and the Luzerners have to go find him and get him back... this part remains a bit fuzzy to me).
Anyhow, you must be wondering what this has to do with the American Party, and the answer is, Timing. We decided to have the party on the weekend before Fasnacht so as to align with the seasonal, festive, dress-up mood. Considering the great success of the party, I’d say it was a good choice.
So, for your viewing pleasure, here are some photo highlights of the two events (The American Party and Fasnacht).
What happens when you tell people to come dressed up as Americans:
sorority girl, Obama, Dr. Yang
The Blues Brothers...
Jane Fonda helping Tourist work-off that burger-belly...
and yes, Elvis.
Jello shots anyone?? (Notice Leah's face in
the background... that was the general reaction)
Explaining the rules of Beer Pong.
Proceeding to win Beer Pong. (Teammate Pascal's
first words on arrival: "Hawaii is part of America too.")
Watching the parade from the balcony of Diel and Luzi's new apartment.
Yves, Samira and Diel.
Michi and I
Diel and I
And then in the Evening...
The streets of Luzern PACKED with people dressed-up
dancing and singing and drinking coffee Schnapps.
In the crowd.
This time I went as a Gypsy. The point on Fasnacht is not
necessarily to dress up as something, but just to disguise yourself
in general (and with enough layers to keep you warm
in the sub-zero temperatures).
Best costumes ever. Lighthouses with a matching beach-decorated
"wagali" or "little wagon" filled with thermoses full of our night's
supply of coffee Schnapps.
A spectacularly disgusting tradition. In addition to coffee Schnapps
you can also have "holdrio" or rose-hip-hybiscus tea with Schnapps.
When you finish your tea, you're supposed to fling your teabag at the
ceiling hard enough that it sticks. Diel and I succeeded.
Ahhh. What a fun year.