Friday, November 29, 2013


Vendredi, 29 novembre.

It's generally considered more popular for American college students studying abroad to choose to spend their spring semester away. At first glance, it doesn't make a lot of sense. The fall semester is easier (you can apply for your visa and pack during summer vacation). The fall semester has better weather (several months of warm before winter finally arrives in December). And the fall semester has Christmas markets. But there is one reason that explains it all:  THANKSGIVING. (Or, as it's pronounced over here: "Zanksgeeveeng.")

Of course! No even semi-patriotic American wants to spend this most important of national holidays on foreign soil. Unlike Christmas and Easter, whose universal importance mean that they could be successfully celebrated in any number of study abroad destinations, Thanksgiving is a New World specialty. Such a uniquely American holiday can only truly be celebrated in the land of the free, where cranberry sauce and canned pumpkin (both impossible to find in France) litter grocery store shelves.

But you've got to do what you've got to do. And when what you've got to do is study abroad during the fall, you just have to accept that a traditional Thanksgiving meal might fall by the wayside.

Don't worry, we didn't eat jelly beans and popcorn! (If only because jelly beans are actually IMPOSSIBLE to find here.) In fact, we W&M students decided to throw our own ""Zanksgeeveeng" dinner! With a little organizational help from our housing coordinator, we split up the dishes and planned grocery store trips. We planned in advance to find all the necessities -- I even had Mommy bring a can of pumpkin when she came to visit in November!

Like all good holiday cooks, we began our preparations in earnest the day before. Brooke made all of her dishes in advance and I spent Wednesday evening  making pies (tartes, in French) at Molly's host mom's house. Our final results definitely weren't anything stellar -- my pumpkin pie (tarte au potiron) cracked right down the middle and Molly's potentially-overcooked apple pie (tarte aux pommes) sunk in as it cooled -- but we were proud of them! (And hey, it's not like a majority of our guests knew any better...)

My other assignment, mashed potatoes (purée de pommes de terre), was slightly less of a group effort. Earlier that week, I had bought as many potatoes as I could carry at the grocery store, knowing that at Thanksgiving, it's always better to have too much than not enough! So after classes on Thursday, I came downstairs to the kitchen and got started. I had been a little worried about the peeling and mashing of dozens of potatoes in the limited post-class/pre-dinner time frame -- but host mom to the rescue! She helped me peel the potatoes and even fished out a nifty hand mixer she'd bought years ago but never used. It worked like a charm and in no time flat, I was mashing away!

In between boiling and mashing and seasoning, I spent an embarrassingly long amount of time taking selfies with my potatoes. But hey, what else is a girl gonna do? (Besides, there was no one else in the kitchen so it was a totally safe judgment-free zone.)


And then it was time for dinner! We headed over to Molly's host mom's house for the official meal. There were just over a dozen people: in addition to the four students and their host moms (or in my case, family), Madame Fize had also invited the young couple renting out her second home. Although the wife is bilingual, her husband is American and speaks very little French, which led to a lot of fun dinner table conversations in franglais!

Everyone brought food to share and we ended up with more than enough to go around ... literally. There was not enough space on the table for all the food to be passed around -- some had to wait in the kitchen!

(Molly and Madame Fize did a lovely job preparing the dinner table, but between the mixmatched chairs and slightly quirky dishes, I couldn't help but be reminded yet again of another famously improvised Thanksgiving dinner...)

Given the difficulty of preparing a normal Thanksgiving meal (with the right ingredients in the right country), our dinner went surprisingly, amazing, almost incredibly well. And most importantly -- everyone seemed to really enjoy the food! It definitely wasn't typical French fare, but everyone seemed to take multiple helpings of everything, from the three different varieties of stuffing to the mashed potatoes to Brooke's amazing sweet potato casserole. (I'll be bringing home the recipe for that one, folks.)

Even the pies were a hit!

Unlike Thanksgiving dinner in America, which is universally served at that awkward is-this-lunch-or-is-this-dinner time, our dinner was NOT an early affair. That's just not how the French do it. (In fact, since coming here, I haven't eaten a real dinner before eight o'clock at night. My host mom tried to explain that the closer you get to the equator, the later the sun sets and the later people eat dinner: in southern Spain, people don't sit down to eat until 10 pm! In theory, that makes a lot of sense ... except that now it's winter and the sun sets before 6.) So by the time we finished up our holiday repas, it was almost eleven o'clock! Luckily, a brisk walk back home -- clutching a plate of leftovers, naturally -- was the perfect cure to the sleep-inducing powers of a Thanksgiving meal.

All in all, it seems like all the American students found their own way to celebrate the holiday. Some other groups of students cooked for their host families; others had meals prepared by their own individual programs. (I'm looking at you, kids from Minnesota.) Still others had "Thanksgiving" in the dorms and shared whatever slightly festive food they could find. Unfortunately, not everybody was able to gorge on turkey and mashed potatoes. So I invited two of my friends, Kait and Brooke, who hadn't been able to have a more "traditional" meal to come over and split leftovers with me for lunch on Friday! We reheated stuffing, mashed potatoes, and sweet potato casserole and laughed as my host mom marvelled at my ability to eat the same heavy meal two days days in the row. (Can't wait to see what she says when I pull out more leftovers for lunch tomorrow...)

Although it wasn't quite the same as being at home with family, Thanksgiving in France was definitely an evening to remember. And it forced me to remember that Thanksgiving is more than just a holiday meal. It isn't about eating cranberry sauce from the can --but oh how I missed it! -- or watching the Cowboys lose or having an excuse to skip school. It's about commemorating the politically incorrect and historically inaccurate representation of an exaggerated truce that preceded the massacre of thousands of innocent Native Americans by hypocritical and ungrateful Europeans.

In all seriousness, however, I do have a lot to be thankful for. This entire study abroad experience has been an incredible journey and I'm very grateful to everyone who has helped to make it possible. Now it's time to profiter bien (a favorite French expression) of the last month of my adventure. Happy Zanksgeeveeng!


  1. I am so happy that you had a "Joyeux Mercidonnant and were able to share it with friends and host families. We truly missed you here this year!

  2. One slight adjustment -- the Cowboys won. I love your holiday celebration and know this will always be your most unique. When you run out of red, use blue is a great philosophy. Charlie Brown knew it and so do you.

  3. Haha! I laughed at your description of what Thanksgiving commemorates! Thanks for blogging.

    Paula Plachno