In one of the stranger manifestations of globalization, Halloween fever has abruptly gripped the French, sending pumpkin prices soaring and sorely testing the Gallic ability to pronounce "trick or treat."
Every last rampart against things American seems to have fallen as more than 8,000 pumpkins have been spread across the Trocadero esplanade in Paris, stores have filled with ghoulish masks and inflatable pumpkin costumes, at least one champagne has adopted a special pumpkin label, bakeries have begun selling "Halloween cakes" and villages have adopted Halloween festivals.
Just a year ago, Halloween _ pronounced "AH-lo-een" by the French _ was virtually unknown here. The only things selling briskly on the eve of All Saints' Day were the chrysanthemums traditionally taken to cemeteries to be placed on graves.
But the progressive Americanization of French culture, the realization that Halloween is a useful marketing ploy in the hollow period before the Christmas season, and the seeming thirst of an economically stagnant society for a moment of festivity seem to have combined to create a sudden Halloween obsession.
"I must tell you that all this is absolutely bizarre," said Marie-France Gueusquin, an ethnologist at the Museum of Arts and Popular Traditions in Paris. "I suddenly started seeing pumpkins everywhere in my local Monoprix supermarket, and I had no idea what was going on. This is emphatically not a traditional French festival."
Christina Mannai of Paris explained that her two sons, who will be having a party and pumpkin-carving session with friends this year, first learned of this imported fete from the film ET.
Certainly, the national telephone company, France Telecom, has decided the pumpkin (la citrouille) plays well with the French. Its mobile telephone, the Ola, is being advertised with orange billboards announcing the pleasures of "Olaween." The five truckloads of pumpkins at Trocadero were placed there by the company to back this campaign.
"For us, Halloween is a real discovery, a wonderful marketing exploit," said Laurence Tankere, a spokeswoman for Galeries Lafayette. "I think it is so successful because people are longing for an excuse to have a good time."
Anna Ocampo, 13, and Pauline Coyac, 14, were shopping for Halloween goods on Thursday at Galeries Lafayette. They discovered Halloween this year.
Asked if they knew about trick-or-treating, they looked blank. "Treek au treeting?" Pauline said.
But Tankere was already familiar with this American refinement of Halloween. "I am sure it will come to France," she said. "It is like door-to-door selling, I think, and it's wonderful!"
_ Information from the Los Angeles Times was used in this report.