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When I was living in Paris, Thanksgiving (literally, l’action de grâce, although most French people will just say Thanksgiving) was the one day of the year when the American expatriate community would come together as one and reclaim their American-ness.
I’ll be honest: For part of the two years I spent living in France, I tried to pretend that I wasn’t American. I didn’t want to be identified as American on the streets, which would mean I wasn’t dressed “French” enough. This was during a time when there were some political tensions between France and the United States as well. Most of the time, upon discovering that I was American, conversations with complete strangers would turn into political discussions or remarks about my American accent. Occasionally, this made me uncomfortable enough to try to at least pretend that I wasn’t American. This didn’t happen all the time, but it did happen.
And, yet, Thanksgiving changed this attitude, at least for me and my American expat friends, every year. We scoured American grocery stores in the 7th arrondissement of Paris for large American-style sweet potatoes (les patates douces) and canned cranberry sauce (la sauce à la canneberge, although I have yet to meet a French person who knows what canneberge is!). Some adventurous friends ordered large turkeys, which ended up not fitting in their smaller European-style ovens. Our complex relationship with our native land would turn into unadulterated love and longing. For Americans, after all, Thanksgiving is inextricably linked with family.
One year, my language group and I organized a bicultural Thanksgiving. Americans and French alike attended a catered Thanksgiving feast at a local church. We stuffed ourselves on plates of stuffed Turkey (la dinde farcie), sweet potato and marshmallow pie (la tarte à la patate douce et à la guimauve), mashed potatoes (la puree de pommes de terre), string bean casserole (les haricots verts en daube), and pumpkin pie (la tarte à la citrouille). We drank wine and spoke in French, English, or Franglish. To this day, this remains one of my favorite Thanksgiving memories.
Here’s a little paragraph in French explaining what Thanksgiving means to Americans. Read it and let me know if you would add anything else, in French, of course!
La fête de Thanksgiving est une fête américaine qui est célébrée tous les derniers jeudis du mois de novembre. A la base, elle est une fête chrétienne, mais elle est maintenant fêtée comme une célébration laïque. Tous les ans, les américains fêtent ce jour-là pour reconnaitre l’histoire des premiers pèlerins sur le sol américain. Leur installation ne fut capable qu’avec des indigènes américains et aux bonnes récoltes. La célébration se fait autour d’une table familiale avec un repas festif et avec une attitude de remerciement.
Happy Thanksgiving! Joyeux Thanksgiving!