This month, Karen Wheeler gets invited to a Bollywood-themed fancy-dress party


Summer nights in rural France can sometimes seem like a non-stop outdoor party: barbecues, local fêtes, and a surprising number of fancy-dress gatherings.

I’m not a huge fan of themed gatherings, as they usually require quite a bit of effort, but expats in France seem very fond of them.

In recent years, I have variously been invited to: an airline-themed party (‘boarding at 7.30pm for take-off at 8pm’), a Jubilee party that involved dressing as a member of the royal family (by far the trickiest), and a summer solstice party (dress code: druids and hippies).

Then, one weekend in August, I was invited to a Bollywood evening by expat friends Stephen and Layla; worth getting dressed up for as they have a nice mix of friends – French and anglais – and there was curry on the menu. Indian food is a rare treat in rural France.

I planned ahead, rummaging around in a box of clothes in the attic and finding an old red Prada skirt from my fashion editor days, and a pink chiffon sarong, along with some jangly metal bracelets and a pair of sequined sandals, the soles of which were in need of repair and had to be glued.

Obviously, I left this onerous task to the very final moment.

Standing in the kitchen in red and pink chiffon, bracelets jangling and with a red bindi painted on my forehead, I sawed the top of a tube of ‘super glue’ using a bread knife, ready to repair the sandals.

The glue shot everywhere – it’s testament to just how fast-acting and effective the product is, that within seconds I’d managed to glue my hands together.

Biff, my dog, ran for cover; perhaps worried that I might glue him to the table.

Cursing themed parties – I knew there was a reason I hated them – I managed to unstick my fingers using a scrubbing brush and hot water, but was left with a strange white coating on my skin.

I was worried I might glue myself to the car steering wheel, but had to take the risk as I was late to pick up Delphine from the little farming hamlet where she lives.

She emerged from her house wearing a mélange of purple and orange fabric, and looking furtive.

“I hope very much that no one I know sees me dressed like this,” she says. Fancy dress parties, like baked beans and Marmite, are something that most French people don’t really understand.

But when we arrived at the party, the colourfully dressed crowd in the garden included many of Stephen and Layla’s French neighbours, who seemed to have embraced the theme with enthusiasm.

Later, I discovered that everyone was wearing upholstery fabrics picked up for a song in the local dépôt-vente. Who knew that it was possible to look so glamorous wrapped in a curtain?

It proved to be a very jolly evening that culminated with Thierry, a candidate for the forthcoming mayoral elections, dancing to Sex Bomb by Tom Jones.

Dressed in a blue satin tabard – not very Bollywood, it’s true – he was dancing in the middle of a circle of clapping anglaises.

The rest of us sat around a brazier in the garden (actually an old metal washing machine drum filled with wood) chatting until the early hours.

One of the guests, who was a well-known French violinist, revealed that Stephen’s house was once owned by a pig farmer, now sadly deceased.

“Imagine,” says Delphine. “If that pig farmer could see us all in his garden now. He probably wouldn’t believe his eyes.”

Meanwhile, Biff, who is very partial to a prawn pasanda, moved around in the darkness, silently hoovering up any tasty curry leftovers.

It was nearly light when I finally got home. It was such a lovely evening, I thought to myself, that it was worth gluing my fingers together for it.

Karen Wheeler is the author of three memoirs about her life in France, including Tout Soul: 
The Pursuit of Happiness in Rural France, £10.99 by Sweet Pea Publishing.

Read about Karen’s experience at a French dinner party

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