American immigrants are full of ingenious ideas when it comes to perpetuating the tradition of Thanksgiving abroad. A large number of Parisians have been won over, and now also celebrate this U.S. holiday with family and friends, at home and at church.
The fourth Thursday in November is one of the rare dates every U.S. citizen marks on the calendar. Americans in the United States travel an average of 250 miles every year to celebrate Thanksgiving with a traditional meal shared by friends or family. The stars of this culinary show include the turkey, accompanied by mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and cranberries. And don’t forget the pecan and pumpkin pies!
For the American community in Paris, breaking with tradition is just not an option. “The fourth Thursday in November is not a public holiday”, says Jean-Noël Castanet, who founded American grocery store The Real McCoy in 1990. He still owns this unique establishment, located on the Rue de Grenelle in the 7th arrondissement of Paris. “As a result, many American immigrants usually celebrate Thanksgiving on the weekend before or after.”
Camilla Radford-Furman, 62, is an American violin teacher living in Paris. “I have to organize two meals every year”, she says. “The first is a sit-down meal with a small group of six to eight people for my American friends who want to celebrate Thanksgiving on the day. I then organize a second, less conventional buffet with around 30 guests the following Saturday.”
Originally from Ohio, Rachel Moeller arrived in France some ten years ago. Two years ago she opened Rachel’s, a restaurant serving traditional American cuisine in the ultra-trendy Marais neighborhood. Her Thanksgiving dinner has been fully-booked since she opened. “We served 120 covers last year”, says Rachel. “The apartments in Paris are smaller than those in the United States. The Americans here don’t have big family houses, and are more inclined to go out for a meal”, says her associate, Birke Moeller (no relation).
On the other hand, Kim Ball, 48, takes pride in hosting her friends in her apartment. “It’s traditional to spend the day roasting the turkey and relaxing with friends”, says Kim, who works as an International Press and Communications Agent for Ogilvy & Mather Paris. “It’s an intimate moment. We host between 30 and 40 guests every Thanksgiving. A restaurant down the street even lends us a few tables and chairs so we can seat everyone at home.”
The students join the festivities
Due to their vast numbers, the students at the American University of Paris are obliged to celebrate Thanksgiving in the sanctuary that is the chapel and theatre of the neighboring American Church, in the 7th arrondissement. “We welcome between 400 and 500 people every year”, says Kevin Fore, Assistant Dean of Student Services. “The university staff prepare the turkey and the stuffing — without the meat gravy for vegetarians — and ask each person to bring a different dish, usually a dessert.”
Thanksgiving is a goldmine for American grocery store owners in the French capital. “We sell almost 300 turkeys for the occasion”, says Jean-Noël Castanet. “We also provide them pre-cooked for staff dinners at major American companies such as Microsoft Paris.”
It has to be said, preparing a Thanksgiving dinner is a challenge. American standards call for extra-large poultry, with each bird weighing in at around 22 pounds! The French versions are three times smaller, and the Parisian ovens are not always big enough. “It was a problem for a long time”, says Camilla Radford-Furman. “But I found the solution: instead of using an entire, traditional turkey, I now serve rolled escalopes of turkey, stuffed and cooked in the pan!”
Allowing for a few infringements to the rules, U.S. culinary tradition has a bright future ahead! And believe it or not, half of the guests invited to these all-American meals are in fact… French! “My Parisian friends had all seen Thanksgiving dinners on television, and wanted to experience the real thing”, says Camilla Radford-Furman. Kim Ball has the same story: “98% of our guests are French!” At the American University, only half of the students are originally from the United States, but “they all feel connected to American culture”, says Kevin Fore.
Article published in the November 2016 issue of France-Amérique.