Thanksgiving in Paris: Or, Much to be Thankful For

December 1, 2009

Happy late Thanksgiving everyone!

I will admit that I was an emotional wreck in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. I was feeling so homesick, so far away from my family, and so far away from pumpkin pie and all the other Thanksgiving classics! I had heard mixed reviews of the program’s annual Thanksgiving dinner, I missed the mayhem of cooking and decorating that always takes place at my house the Wednesday before, and I was at a loss for exactly how to explain the holiday to my host parents. In the days preceding the holiday the conversations with my host father went something like this (just imagine it in French, with me making lots of grammatical errors).

Conversation 1:

Host Father: “So what exactly is ‘Thanksgiving’? ”

Me: “Well, it’s a celebration of the friendship between the Native Americans and the Pilgrims…English…Pilgrims? Is that a word? Anyways, the Native Americans gave food to the Pilgrims to help them survive, because they were hungry”

HF: “Corn?”

Me: “Exactly. And then we thanked them by killing them years after, but we leave that part out on Thanksgiving.”

HF: “So it’s a holiday for the Native Americans? You celebrate with them?”

Me: “….no, we don’t celebrate with the  Native Americans actually, though now that you mention it, it would make  a lot more sense…”

Conversation 2:

HF: “So what exactly does Thanksgiving mean to Americans? Is it your Christmas?”

Me: “No, we still have Christmas.”

HF: “So is it religious?”

Me: “No…I mean Dad always says a prayer before the meal, but that’s it.”

HF: “So do you give presents?”

Me: “No…”

HF: “Are there any special greetings?”

Me: “Just ‘Happy Thanksgiving'”

HF: “So what do you do?”

Me: “Well, it’s just a time for all the family to come over and eat together…like Christmas, but Thanksgiving is just about the eating actually…and the family…mostly just eating with family.”

-I’ll come back to the conversations later, but I am going to segue into the day itself!

Thanksgiving in Paris was like any other day. Class, a break for lunch before another class…but suddenly a miraculous apparition changed it all! As Andy and I strolled along the street, we were suddenly shocked to see cornucopias, pumpkins, and the words “THANKSGIVING SPECIALS” on the blackboard outside of PG’s Bar A Manger. PG’s is an amazing place for lunch, with delicious salads and croques (thin bread baked with cheese and other toppings…so good!) sur-place, or homemade pasta dishes and pizza-in-a-cone to go. The owner is American, outgoing, and a born salesman and people person who will speak to you in French or English with equal ease and wit. My impending class meant that I had to turn down the fantastic sounding croque du jour which was a Thanksgiving feast-cranberry sauce included-on crusty bread, but I couldn’t say no to a miniature homemade pumpkin pie! Andy and I left PG’s clutching our treasures, but spreading the word none-the-less to all of the other students at sbc! I took the first bite, and that’s when I knew that no matter where I was or who I was with, this Thanksgiving was going to be fantastic!

Andy and I (with a mouth full of pie!)

After the delicious pie I suddenly couldn’t wait for the group dinner! Andy sent me a message that he was wearing a tie, and so we all decided to dress up and make it the classiest Thanksgiving ever! Walking into our restaurant, the Vagenende, and seeing the beautiful interior made me glad that I dressed up! And one of our program directors was absolutely thrilled to see Andy in a tie!

Caroline, Gina, and I in our dresses!

Look at that matching tie and shirt!

It was no surprise that the dinner itself turned out to be amazing! I proved I was my father’s daughter by making the table’s Thanksgiving Toast, which was short, but everyone seemed to like it, which was nice. Then came the feast!!! The first course was a vegetable quiche, which was delicious, though certainly non-traditional! The main course was turkey of course, but with a side of tureen, to make it more French. The mashed potatoes were good, though we had peas instead of green beans and the “sauce americaine” was more of an au jus than a gravy. But I had my potatoes and my turkey, so one Thanksgiving without mom’s stuffing and incredible cranberry sauce was actually…tasty! Not something I want to repeat next year of course, but we were all happy, and the multiple bottles of house red wine passed around the table made us all feel very grown-up! (I admit though, I was craving a glass of milk all night!). I skipped out midway through dessert (chocolate mousse cake with vanilla cream sauce) but I stayed long enough to see that the waiter who had been winking at Caroline all evening brought her an extra piece! She was embarrassed, but the rest of us were thrilled!

Adam, Amadi, and Alanna (we had the best table!)

Alanna, Aisha, and Caroline feasting

Caroline with her two desserts!

I ran home, worried that the long French dinner had made me miss my skype date with the entire family back in Michigan. But I shouldn’t have worried. They were there for me with smiles and “Happy Thanksgiving”s and plenty of questions about how I was celebrating in France. I had been so worried that seeing all of their faces and hearing their voices would make me cry for not being there, but I was just so happy to be able to see everyone that asking for anything else or being unhappy wasn’t even a possibility. Going to sleep that night I felt full of food and love, just like one is supposed to!

To allude back to the conversations with my host father, when you think about it (or try to explain it) Thanksgiving is sort of a strange holiday. I now know that it makes less sense to the French than Halloween, but after talking with my host father, I can understand why. It’s funny in a way that Thanksgiving has endured this long, but in spite of there being no religious purpose, no Native Americans, and no presents, it’s still something really important to Americans. Maybe it’s because, as my friend at PG’s says, “Thanksgiving is the one day when Americans eat better than the French”. Good food, with the people you love. That’s definitely something to be thankful for!

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One Response to “Thanksgiving in Paris: Or, Much to be Thankful For”

  1. Dad said

    Victoria, this is one of my favorite of your “blogs” yet… By the way, I thought Thansgiving was all about football and shooting clays in the hay field! Love, Dad

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