Disappointing yet Enlightening: Chinese New Year in Paris

Chinese New Year is the most important of all Chinese holidays — and it’s all about being with family.

Every year, it leads to the world’s largest human migration as millions of people make the long journey home to be with their loved ones. Forget Thanksgiving or Christmas — the feeling of needing to go back to your laojia during Chinese New Year is unrivalled.

I’ve celebrated this holiday with family in Pennsylvania, with family in China, with best-friends-who-count-as-family in Singapore. But this year, for the first time, I was celebrating alone.

So I decided to check out Paris’ Chinese New Year parade, because if I can’t be with family, and I can’t gorge myself on traditional new year food, then the least I could do was find a dragon dance and see some fireworks (preferably being shot off at random and with complete disregard for public safety, for the sake of authenticity).

The day was a disaster. First there was a dilemma of which parade to even go to: there was one in the north, or one in the south — but both were being held on the same day, at the same time. (I don’t understand why the organizers couldn’t have joined forces, or chosen different days to celebrate — is there a parade war going on I’m unaware of?) I took my chances on the 13th arrondissement, which was supposedly the “main” parade.

The best option for a good view, short of climbing into someone's apartment.

That was a mistake. I thought I did well to arrive an hour early, but it still wasn’t enough to beat the crowds. The boulevards were packed with decorations, balloon vendors, and a thick layer of winter coats, thanks to the European winter chill that had arrived just in time for the weekend.

After finding a decent spot, I waited for the parade to start. And waited…and waited…and took some photos while I waited….

By 2:00 pm, the parade was half an hour late, and the crowd was getting antsy. I wasn’t, but that’s because I was quickly turning into an icicle and couldn’t move. Plus, I felt horrible for dragging along two English acquaintances with me to this arctic nightmare, because I thought it would be a “fun” way for us to hang out.

Finally, the parade started.

And it was disappointingly mediocre.

When the flags came out, we were excited. Progress! But our happiness was short-lived: the pace of the parade was devastatingly slow. Move three feet, stop. Wait two minutes, move three feet, stop. I would have preferred to watch water boil; that would have been faster and warmer.

At least there were some of the iconic dragon dances peppered throughout the parade — in between the kung fu demonstrations, the blatant advertising floats, and the groups of teenagers dressed as Confucian scholars or ethnic ‘minorities’:

But the crapshow wasn’t over.

There was one more incident that cemented the fact that this was indeed the least-joyful New Year I’ve celebrated.

After deciding I’d had enough of freezing to death for a parade that was, at best, a B- (the English girls had the sense to ditch a long time ago), I very slowly crawled my way out of the crowded streets and headed back towards the metro.

Seeing the Metropolitain sign across the street, I finally let down my guard and relaxed

And that’s when a old man jumped out of the shadows and screamed in my face, BONNE ANNEE!

I don’t know if he was racist or sincerely trying to convey new year greetings, but he obviously did it because he thought I was Chinese (and I have a feeling it was the former). Seeing he had successfully scared the crap out of me, the man and some white-haired geezer cronies sitting around him started laughing hysterically.

Well that was just the icing on the frozen cake, and I called it a day  — I walked into the McDonald’s across the street and thawed out while eating some good ol’ American comfort food.

How can you not smile at "Recheeeese cheeeese"?

I don’t want to completely write off this Chinese New Year.

I appreciate the city of Paris’ effort to support another culture’s traditions, and of course the hundreds of people who participated in the parade (because those outfits did not look warm).

Also, I know if I hadn’t made the effort to go out, I would have regretted it as it meant I would have done absolutely nothing celebratory this New Year.

It also gave me new insight into what my parents sacrificed by leaving China. In moving to the United States to provide a better life for our family, my mom and dad have not spent Chinese New Year at home with their own parents and siblings and loved ones for over two decades. I was devastated just missing out on one New Year’s. I can’t imagine having to celebrate such a traditional, meaningful holiday from afar for over twenty years.

This Chinese New Year was an experience — but never again. Next year, I don’t know where I’ll be, but I’ll definitely be making some dumplings, buying some fireworks, and Skyping my family.

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  1. I’m sorry your new year’s wasn’t good, but I have to say this is an excellent review of the event. Great pics. Great analysis.

    • Thanks so much Christopher! I’m glad you enjoyed the photos — they’re pretty much the only thing that went right that day!

  2. That’s funny!

  3. For some reason, the Parisian Chinese/Vietnamese don’t have the muscle to pull off an overseas Chinese New Year festivity. I wonder if the Korean expats are going to surpass them in the future.

  4. Your blog is amazing and moreover, your life sounds amazing! I’m so inspired by what you have accomplished thus far. I recently moved to Hong Kong from the US and it has been quite an adjustment despite the fact that I am Chinese American and visited HK growing up.

    I completely resonate with this post and your post on being confronted with racism while in Asian and Europe. It’s such an interesting phenomenon for people whose cultures are hyphenated. And I understand the joy a meal at McDonald’s can bring on one of those off days. Thanks for sharing your life!


  1. […] there was the jerk who delighted in scaring the crap out of me during a Chinese New Year […]