Grand-mère is the formal French term for grandmother. It can be spelled with or without the hyphen. Grand-maman is slightly less formal, and there are several informal terms, including gra-mere, mémère, mémé and mamé. Mamie is also used by modern French families.
Occasionally mémère is used as a pejorative to indicate that a person is old-fashioned or slow, much as Americans may say that someone "drives like a grandma."
The French term for great-grandmother is arrière-grand-mère, although of course great-grandmothers may be given various nicknames as well.
Non-French speakers sometimes adopt French terms as their grandparent names, just because they think they are interesting. In such cases, it's probably advisable to dispense with the accent marks, which tend to confuse those who are not native French speakers.
Grandmothers' Day in France
The first Sunday in March is designated as Grandmothers' Day, or Fête des Grand-Mères. This celebration has commercial origins. It was originally sponsored by a brand of coffee, Grand'Mère Café, which continues to actively promote the holiday. The celebration has spread into the schools, where schoolchildren may make cards or gifts for their grandmothers.
Florists also report an increase in sales of indoor plants on that day. Orchids are especially popular.
On Grandmothers' Day, restaurants may offer special menus, shops may offer discounts, and grand-mères may be able to ride the bus for free.
There is no equivalent holiday for grandfathers.
French Grandmothers and Food
Food is especially important in French culture, and many contemporary families strive to preserve their grandmothers' recipes.
The kitchen was a natural venue for French women. The French may have liberal leanings on some subjects, but they did not lead the push for gender equality. Women didn't gain the right to vote until 1944. Until the 1960s married women could neither work outside the home nor open a bank account without their husband's permission. Today women tend to work in lower-paying jobs and are still underrepresented in government and in the higher echelons of business.
With so many women in the workforce, French kitchens may contain some convenience foods. Still, the French allow themselves to enjoy their food, whether eating at home, in someone else's home or in a restaurant. Declining to taste a dish is frowned upon, as is asking for an item to be prepared a certain way. In France, the cook decides how a dish is prepared, and diners do their best to enjoy it.
French families enjoy on occasion creating French classics like these:
- Coquilles Saint-Jacques, an appetizer of scallops and mushrooms
- Ratatouille, a savory vegetable stew
- Bouef Bourguignon, the traditional beef burgundy dish
- Coq au vin, chicken stewed in wine
- Gratin Dauphinois, potatoes cooked in cream
- Truffle fries, fried potatoes with a touch of earthy truffle oil
- Crepes, suitable for many fillings and every meal
- Chocolate souffle, a light and luscious dessert
- Crème au caramel, a silky custard dessert with a soft caramel layer
- Lemon tart, lemon custard in a flaky shell topped with Chantilly cream
French Grandmothers and Fashion
Besides their connection to the kitchen, French women have a reputation for being fashion icons. Although this may be true primarily in Paris and other urban areas, beautifully dressed women can be observed all over France.
French women don't give up their love of fashion when they become grandmothers. Staying stylish is easy because French women of all ages seldom rely on stilettos and high-fashion outfits to create an alluring look. They know the power of simplicity.
The older French woman is likely to utilize classic pieces, sometimes combined with one dramatic touch. The cardigan is a French classic that is perfectly suited to older women, but longer sweaters work well, too. Beautiful scarves and earrings are items that older French women use to put the finishing touches on their ensembles.
But the French know that beauty goes beyond the wardrobe. The key to French older woman chic, according to Vogue magazine. is confidence, an acceptance of aging and a ongoing curiosity about life.