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:)