The fourth Thursday of November, to the French means the same as the first, second and third thursday of the month, an ordinary day. So for the first time in my life I spent eight hours in school on Thanksgiving and as I sat down for dinner, the first words spoken were “what are we celebrating anyway? What’s the occasion for all of this?”
But don’t worry; I’ll go back to the beginning to recount the tale of my Thanksgiving in France. Way before “all of this” was ready and we all sat down for dinner.
“We” refers to Eliza and her wonderful host family, with whom I celebrated Thanksgiving. Eliza is the other American girl at my school here on AFS and instead of passing the Holiday alone, risking too many thoughts of our families celebrating back home, we decided to spend the holiday together and cook a meal for her host family.
I asked my host mom early in the week and it was arranged that I would go home with Eliza after school, spend the night at her house and go to school with her the next morning. I think sleepovers on school nights are more common here because both our host parents were very open to the idea, whereas that would not be the case back home, at least in my family!
Since we wouldn’t be getting to Eliza’s until 5:30 on Thursday I did half of the cooking the day before. After lunch on Wednesday (the French half day) I walked to the grocery store with a list of all the things I wasn’t able to find in my host families kitchen. A pretty lengthy one too since, carrot cake, apple cake, macaroni, and corn bread are not things that my host family make often (or ever) and therefore do not keep the ingredients on hand. With my translator on hand to figure out what things like powdered mustard, poultry sauce and nutmeg are called in French I searched the aisles of the grocery store and thirty minutes and a heavy basket later, I had found all my fixings…except that powdered mustard.
My host parents had taken my host sister to the dentist so I had the kitchen to myself to bake. I put on the apron and five hours later everything was out of the oven and wrapped up for the trip it would make with me to Eliza’s village the next evening.
It was hard to concentrate in classes on Thursday, as I was so excited! I tried explaining to my French friends and all my classmates why I was so cheery and that it was in fact a holiday, but I was unsuccessful in spreading the holiday cheer. (The French fries in the cafeteria at noon got them in a pretty good mood though, so all’s well that ends well!)
Eliza’s host mom started the turkey earlier in the day, which was so nice, since left up to us it wouldn’t have been done until late…if ever.
|Her host mom with the Turkey!|
Scared we would miss the bus Eliza insisted on finding a shortcut…down a street we had never been before with five minutes until the bus’s departure time, “but in the right direction” according to Eliza’s great natural sense of direction. The same one that led us to a busy street with no bus station in sight.
With two backpacks, a purse and four cakes we walked/ran and somehow we ended up at her bus stop and waited for ten minutes! Which was much needed as my legs were burning, my back was aching and we were both completely out of breath. Let’s not even talk about what all the French kids, standing around nonchalantly smoking, were thinking of the red-faced Americans carrying a dinner in their hands.
A warm, 15-minute bus ride later Eliza and I said “merci” to the driver and stepped out into her village, lit up by streetlights in the 5:30pm darkness. I had only ever seen her village from the highway so I was excited to venture into it by foot. As we walked to her house Eliza pointed out a statue on the mountain that overlooks her village and told me about its 150th birthday celebration that she went to last month.
And then, after researching recipes (and asking for lots of my moms), cooking for hours, not concentrating in class, and taking a very long out of the way route, I was back in a kitchen, cooking some more!
After what I had already prepared and Eliza’s host mom’s help with the turkey we still had mashed potatoes (with marshmallows!), stuffing and cranberry sauce left to make. I got to work by peeling lots and lots and lots of potatoes and cutting up lots and lots and lots of stale baguettes for the stuffing, as Eliza realized that she had gotten dried cranberries for the cranberry sauce!
|Eliza trying desperately to make cranberry sauce out of dried cranberries!|
My hypothesis that dried cranberry’s would never pop was proven to be true after 15 minutes of boiling them…nice try us. While we put everything in the oven to warm up before we attacked the whole eating part of Thanksgiving, Eliza got on skype and I met her whole family! We only talked for a few minutes because it was 8:30 and time to eat!
Eliza’s host family turned on “the American channel” and we saw Obama with his turkey and then we dug into our own. It was delicious.
Our meal consisted of:
- Turkey: success
- Stuffing: success
- Mashed potatoes: not sweet potatoes like we intended to use and with marshmallows, so more like a dessert!
- Corn bread: tasted like sand
- Cranberries: dried… probably not the way the Indians ate them but hey, they’re good that way too!
- Macaroni: success
- Apple cake: success
- Carrot cake with cream cheese frosting: success
Eliza’s host family was really nice about everything, even the dishes that turned out a little disappointing. They were super supportive and proud of us for attempting so many different things. Her host mom thanked us for making the meal and said that it really was a “totally foreign taste”. And of course, back to the question asked earlier by Eliza's host dad, we were celebrating Thanksgiving!
Everyone went to bed that night very very full.
This was my first time cooking more than just cranberry sauce (HA ironic how that’s the thing that didn’t work out this year) at Thanksgiving, as well as my first time being away from my family on the holiday. But spending it with someone going through the same thing helped a lot and took my mind off of what we both would have been thinking, had we been alone.
Thanksgiving marks the beginning of “The Holidays” as “The Exchange Student Survivor Kit” puts it. It comes right after “culture shock” and extends from the third to fifth month. During this time I am advised to not concern myself “with what the holidays are supposed to be or how much I am supposed to enjoy them” (Bettina Hansel) which I think I managed on Thanksgiving. I didn't dwell on missing Thanksgivings at home and instead, focused on the one I was having in France and how to make it a great memory.