Thursday, November 26, 2009


I feel guiltily pleased to have skipped Thanksgiving this year. As I confessed to a friend in an e-mail message, I feel lighter because of it, and no, not just because I'll be consuming a few thousand fewer calories than my compatriots will be today.

"Take that, cranberry sauce!" I wrote. "Take that, pumpkin-in-a-can! Maybe next year I'll offer asylum to some American turkeys." Six years ago, when Thanksgiving came just three months after I moved to France, it was different. I ordered a turkey from the volailler weeks ahead of time; I kept my eyes peeled for rare acorn squash and fresh cranberries at the supermarket; I trekked across Paris to the Grande Epicerie to spend 5 euros on a precious imported can of Libby's pumpkin. I hoarded stale baguette to make my father's delicious savory stuffing. I was a discouraged when my giant American turkey roasting pan wouldn't fit in my French-sized oven, but I improvised. I was quite proud of myself.

Since then, I've made efforts of varying degrees, but never with the same enthusiasm. I've hosted family, which I loved, but I focused more on their visit than on providing a proper American feast. Some years my (coincidentally also American) sister-in-law has put together a turkey dinner for the whole family on the weekend. Some years I've baked a batch of chocolate chip cookies to share with my colleagues at work -- not exactly the tradition, but they loved them and didn't know any better. This year I did nothing. I felt bad admitting it to my mother over the phone last night because Thanksgiving is her favorite holiday, but it felt... freeing.

Here, Thanksgiving is just another work day.

Here, taken out of its proper cultural context, stuffing oneself with six side dishes at one meal feels ridiculous. Especially if, because Thanksgiving is just another work day, you most likely must plan to do it over the weekend, a day or two late, when you have time to cook.

Here, thanks to RTT, four day weekends are no big deal.

And here, of course, there's no American football.

My husband has an American colleague who recently moved here from California and is spending his first Thanksgiving in Paris. His enthusiasm mirrors mine that first year. He had a friend back home send him a box of Stovetop and a football DVD. He looked up how big a turkey to buy on the Butterball website, and duly went to order a 6 kg bird.

"For how many people?" the volailler asked, incredulous.

"For six."

"For six people, you don't want anything bigger than 1.2 kilos," he assured. "Besides, we don't have giant hormone-laden birds like that here in France."

"And anyway," I thought when I heard the story, "good luck fitting it in your oven."

The colleague, for his part, found it curious that we had abandoned any effort to honor the most important of American traditions. "Just wait six years, you'll do the same," my husband told him. But there is one tradition I love, and I'm sticking with: giving thanks.

Thanks for my family. My French husband, who loves pumpkin pie, and my half-French toddler, who is currently skeptical of any food that is the color orange. My parents, who love me even when I do let them down and pass on the turkey.

Thanks for my job. Although I spent Thanksgiving doing the most tedious task of the year -- or so I hope -- it was made better by my colleagues' sense of humor. And while I don't exactly feel useful, I do feel appreciated.

Thanks for my health. Thanks for my home, my cozy, packed, bordelique, almost-Parisian apartment. Thanks for two+ years of parenthood, 8+ years of marriage, and the feeling that both are even more fun with each passing year.

Now I feel all warm and Thanksgiving fuzzy, and I haven't even watched the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Maybe I will bake a pumpkin pie this year if I find some time over the weekend. But shhhh, don't tell...


La Mom said...

You know, Thanksgiving is the one time of year that I ever feel a twinge of homesickness.

Maybe it's because a lot of my friends are back in my hometown for the weekend, or maybe it's because it's such an undeniably American holiday.

I actually do go out of my way to celebrate every year -- even if my kids won't touch stuffing!

La Mom
An American Mom in Paris

Sylvie said...

Thanksgiving for me has always been oddly French, since I always make my French grandmother's chestnut dressing, a recipe that originated in the southwest of France. This year, in Paris, I made it again, hauled it via the Metro to bake in my friend's oven, then carted it, again via Metro, to the ex-pat Thanksgiving dinner I attended. It was the best I've ever made with her recipe. Maybe the recipe likes being back on home turf!