Friday, November 19, 2010

Thanksgiving In France

Lemme get one thing straight.  I love living in France.  I love the language.  I love the people.  And I sure as hell love the food, culture, and traditions.  If I didn’t love it here, I wouldn’t be here.

These posts are to share nothing more than my own experience of how I, as an American, perceive life in France- the differences in culture:  things that surprise, shock, confuse, or consternate (ooh! Good word!)  With this in mind:

Thanksgiving is probably one of the hardest holidays to celebrate in this country.

1.         1.  The French don’t celebrate it (of course) and most don’t realize the historical significance.  I’ve heard it described as the ‘American Christmas Eve’ or ‘That holiday on dubbed over made-for-tv-movies where Americans are always eating turkey and watching football.’   And my American friend’s French husband still announces every Thanksgiving that we are raising our glasses to victory over the Native American tribes.  *sigh*

Which doesn’t make much sense to me, really.  When I describe what Thanksgiving is all about to my French students, a smile softens their faces as they each enjoy telling me what they’d be thankful for…you know, if France had a day like that.

But they don’t.

I guess I can kind of understand.  It’s just not in their nature from what I can see.  I mean, you’ve got a country with free health care, family allocations, six weeks paid vacations, three year maternity leaves, and incredible benefits for civil service workers…they could, you know, at least take a day to sit back and appreciate it?  Or at least…not go on strike so much!:)  But alas…

2.       2.  Traditional Thanksgiving fare like cranberry sauce, stuffing, or canned pumpkin is hard to come by.   Even finding a whole turkey is difficult.  Every year my husband and I stop by the butchers and ask if there will be any turkey’s available and the answer is almost always ‘No- It’s too early!’  The French don’t usually order their turkeys until Christmas, you see.  The one time we did manage to find a whole turkey, the thing was enormous, cost a fortune and it looked like I was roasting a human in my teensy French oven.

3.       3.  The only American grocery store around here who stocks Thanksgiving items is found in Paris.  It’s called the Thanksgiving Store and it’s a cute little out of the way American ‘epicerie’.   -The prices are insane and I officially stopped going after having paid 6 euros (around 8 bucks) for a can of cranberry sauce.  Basically the store preys on poor American students who feel anything is worth a taste of home or rich American expats who don’t give a second thought to paying triple what they would in the U.S. in order to have their butterball turkey and pumpkin pies delivered on time.

Solutions to 1,2, & 3:  Whenever I go to the U.S. I make sure to bring back a couple cans of cranberry sauce.  I’ve learned to make pumpkin pie and stuffing from scratch (tastes just like my mom’s apple sausage stovetop recipe) and I’ve resorted to buying my turkey in pieces and using English gravy (tastes pretty much like American).  I also photocopy a hand out explaining Thanksgiving and give it to all students, colleagues, and family members...educating everyone I can:)

But I guess the hardest thing about celebrating Thanksgiving in France is missing that feeling of solidarity.  Back home, everyone’s living the same moment at the same time.  The whole country sits down to watch Macy’s Day Parade.  They eat together, laugh together, and share their own family recipes, hold hands around the table and think about how blessed they are.

Here in France, it’s ‘just another day’.  No parade.  No tv specials.  No football.  People go to work.  Kids go to school. And its sometimes hard to make it feel special.
But I always do my best:)


Jessica Bell said...

AW, you poor thing :o( I know how you feel. We used to celebrate Christmas with the whole family back home in Aus. Now it's just me S and our dog. My parents live on an island so we don't always get to be together. And S's family is scarce. No more wild family of 50 members getting together anymore :o(

Tom M Franklin said...

"And my American friend’s French husband still announces every Thanksgiving that we are raising our glasses to victory over the Native American tribes. *sigh*"

actually, it's in celebration of the pilgrams rewarding the native americans--who saved their lives by sharing food and teaching good farming practices--with all of their cast-off, smallpox-infected blankets and thereby almost wiping out the very people who kept them alive.


i hope you've created your own traditions for the day. being a stranger in a strange land, i think it's important to carry with you those bits of your history and culture that mean the most to you.

and teaching others the worth of taking time each year to reflect on the things you're thankful for? well, that's a very fine thing, indeed.

-- Tom

Joanna St. James said...

I am not American but i have lived there long enough to heart thanxgiving thoroughly, my friend who is french and I have decided to combine our families for thanxgiving to give us the illusion of having a big family gathering and will just watch American movies and dream of our past thanxgivings in Iowa.
She is already hunting for cornbread recipes (she is preggers and has a cornbread craving)

K M Kelly said...

Reading your post has made me realise that I actually haven't got the foggiest what Thanksgiving is about. It's just something you 'do' on your side of the pond. So would one of the Americans mind explaining it to this little European please :-)

(Here's hoping it's not another 'we wopped the British' like Independence Day) ;-)

Vicki Rocho said...

How do you keep from cracking up at all the misconceptions? Victory over the native americans, *snort*

Jeff Beesler said...

France has free health care? I guess that's an acceptable trade-off for not having massive parades or the eating of Tom Turkey that fourth Thursday in November.

Avo said...

Well, I'm not american... But I live with one. Who is going to meet a bunch of other expats and celebrate thanksgiving.

I went last year and we had mango/homemade foie gras/avocado sushi, failed but tasty pumpkin pie, japanese curry, thai bahn mis, and other stuff.

I guess we didn't have any traditionalists in our midsts. ; j
Back on a cooking note... Easily found and relatively affordable replacements:

You can get jarred lingonberry (fr. airelles) in a lot of supermarkets, or even substitute cranberry for fresh redcurrant (groseilles) and make your sauce from scratch.
Try thickening a homemade berry sauce with french butter... the taste will knock you out!

You can replace the turkey by a capon (fr. chapon) which easily reaches the 3,5kg range...

Stuffing... Ooh this a part where you can really have fun.

You could use chestnuts (châtaignes), garlic, onions, a small amount of grated carrot or sweet potato (patate douce), some smoked bacon (petits lardons), and herbs to taste as base for a stuffing!
Capons are juicier than turkeys and the chestnuts just soak up the flavors.

I've used this recipe before (not for thanksgiving though). It's awesome!
Of course these are all replacements, ultimately, I imagine it might come down to wanting the flavors you grew up with so... Shrug. There's only so much you can do. : p
Hope you have a merry thanksgiving!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I would miss it as well.

Stina said...

Wow, and I thought our year maternity leave was pretty cool. Yeah, why be thankful when you can go on strike?

I feel your pain. When I was living in Finland, we tried to celebrate American/Canadian Thanksgiving (we celebrated them both on American Thanksgiving), but turkeys and pumpkins aren't naitive to Finland. Even at Christmas they don't eat Turkey . . . only ham.

Laura Pauling said...

I think if I lived overseas I'd more miss the nostalgia that comes with the date rather than the actual food. So many of our memories are attached to food. And that's about missing people. I'll be thinking of you.

LTM said...

*snort* at the holiday for turkey and football... :D I'm glad you're doing your part to educate the Frenchies, and after your description of your Barbie Dream Kitchen, I can't imagine you actually still trying to find a whole turkey. Go w/a breast. Yes?

Happy Thanksgiving, hon~ :o) <3

Carolyn V. said...

I've erased my comment three times. ugh! I just wanted to say, Have a great Thanksgiving, even though you are far away. I am thankful that I have gotten to know you. =D <3

Matthew MacNish said...

I would trade all our commercial holidays for 6 weeks vacation and free health care. Just sayin.

Still I do feel your pain, there is something special about all that solidarity, and the football is fun too, even if it's always the Detroit Lions, or the Dallas Cowboys, two teams I don't really like.

Carolyn Abiad said...

I know how it feels. I came up with some good recipes myself, since there were no ready made shortcuts in Turkey either. The UAE was a little more forgiving (more expats). Unfortunately, they don't sound half as yummy as Alesa's!

Have a Happy Thanksgiving - I'll be thinking of you when I toast my Beaujolais Nouveau! :)

Slamdunk said...

Sounds like you overcome the obstacles there. I like the canned cranberry sauce much better anyways--as compared to the fresh stuff.

Raquel Byrnes said...

Wow, I can't imagine not watching the Macy's parade. I love having my family around while I cook...the smell of my chocolate bourbon pecan pie in the oven while we hang out and catch up at the kitchen table.

Glad you're able to get some of the the ingredients you need...especially at those prices.

Janet Johnson said...

LOL about the strikes. :) My French friends are always talking about that. France is wonderful, even with all their quirks.

Happy Thanksgiving! Even though it's not quite the same. (and so smart to bring some back with you!)

Nicole Zoltack said...

Happy Thanksgiving!

KatOwens: Insect Collector said...

I hear you. We lived in the NL for 5 years and tried to import Thanksgiving as best we could. We'd have to put in an order for a turkey weeks before with the bird- meat-guy (that sounds weird I know, but he's not the butcher, he's the bird-meat-guy).
Luckily we had a few expats over and one always made a great pumpkin pie. Another could find cranberry sauce in Germany (why? I don't know). We did the stuffing, potatoes, unhealthy casseroles, etc. Add in good beer and wine (not American). Good times.
It was tough because the world didn't stop, but we really loved sharing it with our American and Dutch friends.
Here's hoping your thanksgiving is full of friends, good food, and all the fixins!!!!

Colene Murphy said...

Awe that really makes me sad that they don't get Thanksgiving like it really is/should be! I hope you have a special day next week anyway!

Anne R. Allen said...

I remember rounding up stray Yanks in order to try to put together something resembling Thanksgiving in England. But it wasn't as hard as trying to help a Mexican friend celebrate Cinco de Mayo in the Netherlands. Everywhere we went looking for avocados, they gave us Advocaat--a sort of eggnoggy liqueur. Definitely not good for guacamole.

Nicole L Rivera said...

I celebrated the 4th of July in Italy in 2006 when they were protesting George Bush's meeting with the UN in Rome. It was weird. There was no cloud of smoke the next morning, but my study abroad peers and I did what we could -- without getting burning flags thrown at us. Hang in there. The French will come around -- maybe, someday... possibly. I mean who doesn't want to take a day off to eat, laugh with family, and remember all we are blessed with? Not to mention stuffing, pumpkin pie, and Black Friday sales. :)
Thanksgiving love from the U.S.

Karen Jones Gowen said...

This post makes me thankful for.. yes, Thanksgiving! My favorite holiday, even better than Christmas. I hope you have a good one!

Old Kitty said...

Enjoy your Thanksgiving! I think it's uniquely American and should be just so - it's always brilliant to have a special holiday unique to a country - makes celebrating such a national event while living abroad very interesting and more memorable. Take care

mshatch said...

I love your posts about life in France. My sister is living in Singapore and has a long list of things she misses. I'm sure Thanksgiving is one of them.

Jamie Gibbs said...

I'm going to my first Thanksgiving dinner next week :) One of my American friends is hosting it, and it's been presented to her Welsh friends as a night of eating a ton of food and getting very drunk :P
I'm looking forward to seeing how the whole Thanksgiving thing is done, it's going to be a lot of fun.

Hopefully you'll educate enough of the locals to want to actively participate in their own Thanksgiving :)

notesfromnadir said...

That's wonderful how you educate your students, friends & family members about the true meaning of Thanksgiving.

But $8 for a can of cranberry sauce?

Making your pumpkin pie & stuffing from scratch means much better tasting food.

I laughed about the national image of us eating turkey & watching football -- it's very true in many cases!

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving! :)

Susan Fields said...

Three years maternity leave??? I'd sure be thankful for that!

I hope you have a happy Thanksgiving, even if it's not quite like you're used to.

Samantha Vérant said...

I'm going home for Thanksgiving--without the kids and husband. This is only because my family canceled coming here for X-Mas. But I know how you're feeling. And you have to make due with what you have...

klahanie said...

Hi there,
And, as a Canadian living in England, I can understand what you mean.
Of course, it is not uniquely American and I celebrated, in my own quiet way, Canadian Thanksgiving and thought about my friends and family, back in Vancouver.
May you, in your own special way, have a peaceful and positive Thanksgiving.
With respect and kindness, Gary.

Lenny Lee said...

hi miss katie! i like how you share out with your students about being thankful. you dont gotta have a special day for being thankful. i know youre gonna miss being here on thanksgiving but im gonna make you a promise that for sure im gonna think about you and send happy thanksgiving thoughts all the way to france and wish you a fun and happy day.
...hugs from lenny


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