Among the usually hand-lettered signs you’ll see on the roadsides in France are those announcing a loto.
These aren’t the same as the lottery, although that also is called a loto (pronounced low-toe). The same word is used for a version of bingo, which involves numbers only.
There’s all the usual bingo paraphernalia, such as special chips and a magnetic wand that will pick them up with a swipe. Because you know how annoying it is to sweep up your chips.
There are different levels, with prizes to match. A simple win has a smaller prize than, say, a full card, or carton plein.
When you win, you throw your arm in the air and yell “quine!” (pronounced keen), because a single line has five numbers. You yell it for a carton plein as well.
There are three things that are very different from bingo nights in the U.S. I’m speaking about school lotos because that’s what I’ve been involved with.
First, it starts very late. The elementary school loto began at 8:45 p.m., which was 45 minutes after my kid’s bedtime. A dispensation was granted, but really, I was surprised that an event for kids started so late (it’s scheduled for after supper) and lasted until nearly midnight.
Second, the refreshments. In France, the refreshment stand is called a buvette, which is related to the word for drink (boire, past tense bu). Here are some of the things served:
Crêpes (sugar or Nutella), made in advance by parents and warmed up on order, which come fast and furious during the 15-minute break.
Cakes, especially quatre-quarts, like pound cake.
Tartes, especially with beautifully arranged apple slices or pear/chocolate.
Coffee, soft drinks, beer.
The third difference is the prizes. There are gift certificates and donations from area businesses and Christmas presents being regifted to the school effort, but overall the prizes are heavy on gastronomy. For example:
Wine, hams, other large chunks of meat, hard sausages, foie gras, patés, geese, chickens, ducks (with heads and feet). And wine.
A few years ago, our kid struck it big. Check out this haul: