What I Am Thankful For….

by Kimberly Petyt


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As you can imagine, living overseas during the holidays can be really difficult for an expat. Especially difficult are holidays that aren’t celebrated outside of America, like 4th of July, Halloween or Thanksgiving. Over the years, our Franco-American family has created some interesting cultural mash-ups during the yearly holidays, mixing French and American flavors along with our inherited family traditions. The one place that I won’t budge, though, is Thanksgiving.

As an American in Paris, I spend around 350 days a year “dialing it down” to fit in with France. In France, the voices are quieter, the lifestyle is slower, the silhouettes are slimmer, the flavors are more subtle and wine is sipped in moderation. In Paris, girls don’t drink beer, share lipsticks or laugh “too loud”- especially at guys’ jokes (le gasp!) I’ve found in my 13 years of living in France, that while you’ll often have moments that can be considered “a very nice time”, you’ll very rarely have a “BLAST”. Thanksgiving for me is the one time I get to let my hair down, and my American friends know that when they come for Thanksgiving dinner chez les Petyts, they can let theirs down too.

I decorate the house in the warm reds, oranges and yellows of autumn (no easy feat in France, where blue and silver Christmas decorations hit the shelves as soon as the Back to School sales have ended.) I make hot (spiked!) apple cider when they arrive, so they’re greeted with the American smell of cinnamon as soon as they walk in the door. We serve American dishes prepared as traditionally as possible with what is available in France- sweet potato casserole, turkey, mac & cheese, cranberry sauce, bread stuffing, etc. It’s an unspoken rule that There Shalt Be No “Frenchifying” of recipes or traditions- no foie gras, sauce bechemel or the like. (I remember the one year when my husband innocently asked for a baguette at dinner. He’s lucky I wasn’t still carving the turkey at the time. Just saying.). People know that they can pile their plates high, mix hot with cold, sweet with salty, go back for 2 or 3 (or more!) helpings, and it’s ok! The table talk is loud and boisterous about whatever- and not the e-n-d-l-e-s-s analysis of the food itself which usually accompanies meals in France. Everyone KNOWS what’s in the mac & cheese- because it’s MAC & CHEESE, yo!

At our house at Thanksgiving there is a Kids Table which the French (and probably that Pamela Druckerman) keep insisting is a bad idea because then your children apparently never learn correct table manners. Instead they learn how to sit sadly for HOURS while the adults talk about ingredients and then get screamed at, grounded and banished from the table when they finally get restless and start acting out. We serve the kids first at our Thanksgiving, then pop in a movie (a Disney classic, of course) and let them veg out while the grown-ups eat and drink themselves silly at The Big Table. Not until after the last forkful of pumpkin pie has been eaten do I finally let a bit of La Belle France cross my Thanksgiving Day threshold- in the form of tiny cordials of green Chartreuse digestif which helps to settle guests tummies for the long walk home. I’m thankful for having so many friends throughout the years come to our home to share this holiday with us. I’m also thankful for my husband and children (who have actually never known Thanksgiving other than in France) who tolerate my American, um, quirkiness this one day of the year.