Last year, I got lucky. I had moved abroad, but I was still working for an American company. The result was that I had Thanksgiving day off as a holiday, just like always, allowing me to focus my time on cooking way too many mashed potatoes, picking up our fresh-ordered pumpkin pie, and generally lazing around the house to the smell of a feast in progress.
This year, I officially work in France where they do not celebrate Thanksgiving. In theory I could have taken the day off and, honestly, I had fully planned on it. But between our recent long weekend in Barcelona (which I will tell you about soon), plus being in the middle of a HUGE project at work, plus needing to take scattered days off soon for signing on our apartment and moving and all that good stuff, well, it just wasn’t feasible to take my Thanksgiving day.
So here we are, working on my treasured American holiday.
Thanksgiving in France
I cannot count the number of times in the past week that I have had to explain any of the following:
- When is Thanksgiving?
- What is Thanksgiving?
- What is that thing you’re drawing?
- Answer: This
- Where’s the turkey?
- Are you going to eat macaroni and cheese?
- … among other confused questions
The French, as it turns out, are very unaware of ‘Thanksgiving’ as a concept. When I was in Wales, I had found that most people were vaguely aware of the idea of the American holiday and that it was, in fact, an official holiday.
My French coworkers, on the other hand, have been saying things like “people are really into Thanksgiving!” with a bemused look of someone who doesn’t understand, but won’t question, a silly thing they see someone doing. I’ve found myself repeatedly explaining that Thanksgiving is, actually, a major national holiday and that it’s actually illegal(?) for offices to be open and that it is not, in fact, just a made-up occasion driven by marketing for Americans to stuff their faces.
They’ve all been pretty surprised.
Apparently, the French more or less think that it’s like Halloween, where it’s a made-up excuse to eat a lot and that, as adults, it’s silly and/or optional to participate. Cue sadness.
Thanksgiving is the best holiday, and it’s a real holiday and I take it very seriously. Ok, yes, it’s 90% about food but I love it.
A Working Holiday
And so I’m left trying to figure out exactly how to have a full Thanksgiving spread, for just 2 people, after a long day at work.
I had considered doing it all on Saturday, but unfortunately French immigration had other ideas when they scheduled me for a mandatory session of what I call “Immigration School.” I will be trapped in a full day (8:30am – 5:00pm) of thrilling lessons on how to integrate into society or how to find work in France. Nevermind that I have lived here a year, am married into a French family, and already have a job at a French company…
I even briefly considered not doing Thanksgiving dinner at all. gasp! I know, the horror! But I was saved by Frenchman who, aside from just generally supporting any of my crazy schemes because he’s good like that, is actually a really big fan of Thanksgiving himself. He’s a man who loves to eat, so it’s really a holiday concept he can get behind.
And so we come to the struggle of working on what is normally a full day of cooking. I had to come up with a plan:
- We are scaling back from last year. No full turkey, even cooked from the boucher, as there’s no time to pick it up and honestly we can’t eat that much, especially after work on a weeknight. We’re doing turkey breasts (with extras for the desired leftovers).
- Mashed Potatoes and Stuffing are to be made the night before. Limited time and severely limited equipment means I need those pans freed up for the stuff that needs to be made day-of.
- Try to leave earlier from work on Thursday and make: Turkey (duh), gravy from a McCormick’s mix, fresh string beans, and Swedish apple pie because it’s easier and less stressful than regular apple pie.
Frenchman hopped on board the plan and made several trips to multiple grocery stores early in the week to ensure I’d have the ingredients I needed, while I continued working late on this enormous project.
An American-sized holiday in a French-sized kitchen
Small fridge with big ambitions. No American-size mega fridge here. #ExpatThanksgiving pic.twitter.com/ghzsAj69Gx
— Jennifer Hattam (@TheTurkishLife) November 23, 2016
Now I thought last year was a challenge, in terms of kitchen constrictions. Turns out, while I’ve upgraded to a REAL OVEN YOU GUYS!!! in our temporary rental, I had taken for granted the availability of the rest of the supplies that I did have in our last place. We have, basically, 1 dish to bake in. We have a single medium saucepan and a skillet we brought with us. A peeler for all the potatoes and apples? No such luck. If two things need to be made in a pan, one of ’em has to be done ahead (hence the Wednesday mashed potatoes and stuffing).
This year, we’re on Hard Mode between the full work day, 2 inches of kitchen space and practically no equipment to cook a full meal. Just call me Turkey McGyver.
So while you’re all cooking in multiple pans this holiday, think of me.
At least I have a real oven, and I’m thankful for that.