The first American Thanksgiving I celebrated in France was in 2008. My then- boyfriend and I had adjusted to living together and my French immersion was playing out in its final stages (which left me speaking French more often than not). But even from this stable place I’d carved out for myself in a new country, a little bit of homesickness invaded my perfect world.
Thanksgiving had always been a family time for me (much like Christmas), and I missed mine. In Canada with my mom, we celebrated an American style Thanksgiving in early October when Canadians celebrate the holiday. When in Alabama with my dad and his family, we celebrated in the traditional American Thanksgiving, went up to a hunting lodge, drove four wheelers around, the adults did some sort of hunting, and then we all ate too much.
On that first Thanksgiving in France, after having lived in Paris for almost two years, and in an effort to lift my spirits, a few of my American friends and I decided to make a real, down-home, Thanksgiving feast for our French companions. I got all excited about the idea and started searching for a store in Paris where I could find cornstarch, brown sugar and baking soda (these are not used in French cuisine). As I found out, Paris is the proud host of two such stores that sell all-American goods: Thanksgiving in Paris – ever so appropriately named – and The Real McCoy. We tried both. I was delighted to find Hellman’s mayo, cranberry sauce, Dr Pepper. I felt transported back home just by walking in the store.
Accompanied by a few of my expat friends, we bought all the ingredients we needed for stuffing, cornbread, green-bean casserole, gravy, macaroni and cheese, cranberry sauce, sweet potato pudding, pecan pie and a giant turkey which we had to custom order. These were all new recipes to the French who neither celebrate Thanksgiving nor know every much about casseroles or macaroni and cheese. They certainly know nothing about Southern cornbread!
All that was left for my friends and I to do was find a stove big enough to cook the twelve pound turkey. As none of our apartments had a full American size oven, we bartered our leftovers for the opportunity to borrow one of our French invitée’s parent’s houses for the evening. It was a beautiful, large family home with plenty of room for all of us Americans to be in the kitchen at the same time, each stirring and mixing, folding and whipping their family’s specialty. (Mine was my Alabaman great-grand mother’s cornbread dressing.) Of course, the juxtaposition of this great American feast held within the walls of an 18th century hôtel particulier did not escape me.
Once the turkey was ready, the table set for our fifteen guests, we piled all the food in the center of the long white lace tablecloth – forgetting altogether for that particular afternoon the French dinner tradition of entrée, plat, dessert, dishes served in sequence one after the other.
Then, we all held hands to say a blessing. I shut my eyes and lowered my head: “Thank you, Lord, for Thanksgiving in Paris, and for new beginnings.”
I wish all my fellow Americans a wonderful holiday today, and a special nod to those of us far from home and family.