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Do French Expats Even Care About Bastille Day?

By Nicole Levy | July 13, 2015 4:18pm | Updated on July 14, 2015 12:27pm
 Can-can dancers perform at the 2015 Bastille Day street fair.
Can-can dancers perform at the 2015 Bastille Day street fair.
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French Institute Alliance Française/ Sasha Arutyunova

Can-can dancers dancing. Fencers fencing. Mimes miming. Macarons tempting.

All made an appearance Sunday at the annual Bastille Day street fair on 60th Street on the Upper East Side.

Tens of thousands of New Yorkers came to celebrate the holiday commemorating the storming of the Bastille fortress — a Parisian prison symbolizing the despotism of the French monarchy — on July 14, 1789.

But not Mouna Rmiki.

“I just thought it was funny to see people lining up for crêpes and stuff like that,” said the French-Moroccan actress who’s lived in New York for the past three years and who glimpsed the festival on her way to see a play a block south. “I was just like passing by, as if it wasn’t my thing.”

It really wasn’t; the crowds in attendance were mostly American-born, said Alexis Buisson, 29, managing editor of French Morning, a news site for French nationals living in the U.S.

That doesn’t mean that French expats living in the city are so blasé about le quatorze juillet they aren’t observing it. (Well OK, two reached by email told DNAInfo they had no special plans for the holiday, but maybe they’re just not terribly festive individuals.)

“I actually prefer Bastille Day in New York than in France,” Buisson said. The Prospect-Lefferts Gardens resident had spent Sunday manning French Morning’s booth at the Manhattan street fair, and he still sounded peppy at 8 that evening.

“Back in France, the 14th of July is a tradition, so it’s something you do mechanically. When you’re in New York, it becomes a kind of special moment for the [French] community, because ... it’s an opportunity for the French people to gather.”

The French Consulate estimates that about 80,000 French nationals live in the greater New York area today, a spokesperson said. That’s up from roughly 70,000 in 2011

 A player of the French game pétanque, takes his turn
A player of the French game pétanque, takes his turn
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Alban Denoyel

The number of Bastille Day events in the vicinity is growing, too, according to Buisson. French Morning listed 17 events this year, compared to 10 in 2014.

“But now that we’re living abroad, you care a bit more about Bastille Day,” said Andy Rodrigues, 24, a French national who co-owns the TriBeCa crêperie By Suzette with his former classmate Guillaume Blanchard. (You’re also susceptible to homesickness, but pastries from Maison Kayser and a glass of bordeaux can cure that tout de suite, he added.)

Rodrigues is taking an entrepreneurial approach — what could be more American? — to the holiday this year. Unlike the majority of businesses in France, By Suzette is set to open on the 14th and serve diners a free sweet crêpe with every savory one they order.

Alban Denoyel, 30, chief executive of a startup called SketchFab, thought his work would keep him from his customary Bastille Day traditions: a game of pétanque, the Frenchman’s bocce, and a pastis, France’s national anise-flavored aperitif. But the roof of his Union Square office building proved the perfect place to enjoy both last Friday evening, with his employees.

Still, in this city that never sleeps, there may be no more quintessentially New York way of celebrating Bastille Day than being so busy you just can’t find the time to do it.

“Because of my schedule ... celebrating July 14 is kind of the last thing on my mind,” Rmiki, who lives in Astoria, said.

In France, the land of actual 9-to-5 workdays and 31 days of government-guaranteed paid vacation, she’d attend barbeques or watch fireworks in the company of friends.

“Here in New York, it’s a complete different thing. I need about three months to schedule a dinner with my friends.”