My first Thanksgiving as an expat was in 2010. It was the first time spending this quintessentially American holiday in France, so I really wanted to go all out and impress my French family with a traditional Thanksgiving experience. I even posted a little article from French Wikipedia on Facebook for them, explaining what Thanksgiving was — that it’s about more than just parades, football games, and oven-roasted turkey. Then I ran off to a little American épicerie in the Marais (incidentally called “Thanksgiving”) and loaded up on the traditional fixin’s. Here’s my Facebook status from November 24, 2010, pretty much summing up my grocery list:
Michael is thankful for a store in Paris that sells American stuff at an incredible markup. Let’s see:
• Pepperidge Farms® stuffing mix ✔
• Libby’s® pumpkin in a can ✔
• Ocean Spray® fresh cranberries ✔
• Fluff® (because a sweet potato soufflé without some melted, toasty marshmallow goodness just ain’t right) ✔
As I recounted recently, the dinner was a great success (especially the stuffing and homemade cranberry sauce), but the pumpkin pie proved to be a bit confusing to the French palate. My Facebook status from November 26, 2010:
It’s official … the French hate pumpkin pie.
My sister-in-law actually suggested serving it as an appetizer with a green salad! I know, right? All in all, though, my first Thanksgiving in France was a wonderfully warm experience that I really enjoyed sharing with my French family.
So how did I outdo that performance the following year? Was I able to convince the French to embrace the pumpkin as a dessert ingredient? Well … no. When I started writing this post yesterday afternoon, I was having real trouble remembering what I even did last Thanksgiving. Facebook’s Timeline didn’t help and, oddly, I hadn’t written anything at all about it for je parle américain! Maybe I was depressed from being so far from my parents for yet another holiday … or maybe I was just so scarred from the prior year’s pumpkin pie trauma that I boycotted Thanksgiving on foreign soil. In any case, Thanksgiving 2011 was apparently a completely unmemorable experience. Which brings us directly to …
So, how did I celebrate Thanksgiving this year? Well, Wednesday night, America’s culinary high holiday came early to our house; I came home with sweet potato cupcakes from Sugar Daze and surprised Michel with this delectable variation on the traditional (Southern) tradition of sweet potato soufflé. (It even had marshmallow-flavored buttercream icing!)
But Wednesday wasn’t officially Thanksgiving, so what did I do for the big day itself? Well, after my morning grammar class, I hung out at my favorite American oasis on the Left Bank: Sugarplum Cake Shop, drinking coffee but resisting the siren song of such American temptations as carrot cake, pumpkin pie, and peanut butter-cornflake squares. It wasn’t easy …
After that, I headed over to meet my friend Claire at the American Library in Paris. We had both heard good things about the place, so we wanted to see what it had to offer two American expats on Thanksgiving afternoon. Talk about a disappointment! Despite its location in one of the most chi-chi districts of Paris (literally in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower), our hopes of a New York Public Library-style experience were completely dashed. It sort of reminded me of a big high school library, to be honest. But the worst of it is that, without an annual membership, you have to pay 14€ (more than $18) for a day pass to go read their books! Uh, no thanks. I can get into to the Louvre for less than that … or get a vegetarian bagel at Delmas Diner, thank you very much. So, with an exasperated huff and a roll of the eyes, we just decided to go have coffee and chat instead.
When Claire and I parted ways, I hopped over to the Right Bank to meet up with yet another American friend who’s in Paris this week. I met Keith and his English friend, Andy, in front of Hôtel de Ville and we headed off for an apéritif and then dinner at my favorite little crêperie in Saint Germain. Okay, so crêpes aren’t exactly turkey and stuffing, I know, but we weren’t so much celebrating Thanksgiving as celebrating Keith’s 36th birthday — which just happened to coincide this year with Thanksgiving Day and his first visit to Paris in a decade! After our typically French dinner, it was back to the Marais for a few more celebratory drinks. We definitely imbibed a bit too much (which was as evident this morning as it was last night), but it did help get us uninhibited enough to sing “Happy Birthday” to Keith in French. Not a bad way to spend Thanksgiving 2012.
So, that makes three Parisian Thanksgivings in a row for me … with three very different experiences. The one thing that hasn’t changed from year to year, though, is that I’m still infinitely thankful for all the good things in my life: for my parents who love and support me, for my friends back in America whom I miss terribly, for my new friends here in France, and for the man who came into my life when I least expected it, changed its course forever, and continues to give it meaning every single day that we’re together. And in the end, that’s what Thanksgiving is all about, isn’t it?
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
© 2012 Samuel Michael Bell, all rights reserved