I’ve found that it’s possible to celebrate Thanksgiving, the most American of holidays, in France, the most cheese-filled of countries.
I spent the whole afternoon making dinner with another American language assistant and an assistant from England, who both live in Guéret. Our meal was likely the only Thanksgiving dinner in town, as the only two Americans in Guéret are the other assistant and me. But we had all the traditional fixings: turkey, mashed potatoes, apple pie, stuffing, green bean casserole, and even cranberry sauce (courtesy of our British friend snagging a jar of it from England).
And what do the French lycée students know about Thanksgiving? They know that Americans eat turkey, and a few have heard the children’s story of how the Native Americans and Pilgrims worked in harmony for their first Thanksgiving meal. But that was the extent. Their general impressions after I taught them the basics of our Thanksgiving traditions:
- When I explained the phrase “giving thanks” to the students, they immediately thought it was a religious concept. It took a bit to tell them that no, Thanksgiving isn’t a religious holiday.
- The students have no idea who Native Americans are. They knew they were also called “Indians,” but the students didn’t know who they are — that they lived on the American continent long before the Europeans.
- I told the students what the Pilgrims really did to the Native Americans back in the 1600s. A few asked why we would celebrate murder. I quickly explained we don’t celebrate that — Thanksgiving is more about giving thanks and eating.
- When the students saw a photo of President Obama pardoning the turkey, they thought he was killing the turkey.
- I showed the students a photo of sweet potatoes topped with melted marshmallows; they thought the marshmallows were mushrooms.
- They kept thinking pie is the same food as cake. It isn’t.
- The French students thought the Thanksgiving meal looked delicious. I can’t argue with that.