‘At first Thanksgiving in France wasn’t a big deal’

Although they won't get the public holiday thousands of Americans in France will celebrate Thanksgiving on Thursday far from their families back home. Jeff Steiner, who runs the website Americans in France tells The Local about why Thanksgiving is still important even in the Alps.

'At first Thanksgiving in France wasn't a big deal'
The famous scene from the US sitcom Friends involving a stray turkey at Thanksgiving. Photo: Screengrab Youtube.

Americans across France will gather on Thursday to celebrate Thanksgiving, by devouring the traditional turkey and sinking a few glasses of French wine no doubt. Official celebrations will take place in various cities throughout France, (for a full list CLICK HERE) but most others will opt for a dinner at home, with friends and perhaps their extended US-Franco families.

One of those Americans who will be celebrating is Jeff Steiner, who runs the website Americans in France from his home in the department of Haute-Savoie in the Rhône-Alpes region. In a guest blog for The Local he looks at the issues of commerating Thanksgiving in France and how a year without a turkey changed everything.

“Thanksgiving is one of those times when Americans in France will naturally feel homesick. It’s a uniquely American tradition and it’s a holiday where people’s families back in the States will be getting together. 

“Some Americans in France go back home for Thanksgiving but it’s not that easy for us to just jump on plane, like it is if you’re British. For me living in the Alps, the journey takes around 20 hours. However things are slightly easier for us now with Skype and the internet etc. That does help a lot.

"When I first lived in France Thanksgiving wasn't as important to me as it is now. The difference is that when I first lived here from 1994-96 I was single and for me in general Thanksgiving wasn't that big of a holiday, even in the US. And of course it's difficult to have a real Thanksgiving without football on TV.

"But now as a father it's become important. A way to show my son a bit of good old America.

“When I moved back to France in 2001 with my wife and son at first we celebrated Thanksgiving with other Americans. This was easy, we lived in Alsace and there's Americans in Alsace who organize a yearly Thanksgiving dinner.

"But then we left Alsace and moved to Dijon. In Dijon when November came around, we couldn't find a turkey and so no Thanksgiving. There's lots of things you can't have at Thanksgiving but turkey's not one of them. So for the first time in my life I didn't celebrate Thanksgiving and discovered it was important to me.

"After this I discovered I could buy a turkey through in-laws who are farmers. That's what we've done ever since. We now have a Dinde de Bresse at Thanksgiving. We do have to call ahead, as our turkey is specially killed for us and then arrange for pick up. A Dinde de Bresse isn't nearly as big as what you can get in the states. This year our turkey is 3.6 kilos, but it's incredibly tasty.

"We also have pumpkin pie, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes and stuffing. It's as close to home as we can get. Best of all for me is that when November rolls around my son now asks if we are going to have Thanksgiving. It looks like I was able to install a Thanksgiving tradition in him just as I did myself.

"Our tradition now is to celebrate Thanksgiving on the Saturday after the US holiday. We have American friends who come and everyone brings something. We even have a good friend who makes sure we have cranberries! Never been a big fan, but as she says you can't have Thanksgiving without cranberries. 

"Unfortunately we don't get the public holiday in France, but we can't really complain as we get plenty of others throughout the year."

Jeff Steiner, runs the website Americans in France from his home in the department of Haute-Savoie in the Rhône-Alpes region.

Is Thanksgiving still important to you even though you live in France? Share your experiences in the comments section below.

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Reader question: How does getting a French visa affect the 90-day rule?

If you're not an EU citizen and you're coming to France, you need to either get a visa or abide by the 90-day rule - but can you combine the two?

Reader question: How does getting a French visa affect the 90-day rule?

Question: I have a property in France and I’m looking at getting a six-month visitor visa so we can spend more time there since Brexit, but how does this work with the 90-day rule? Do we still use that rule for the rest of the year?

If you’re not a citizen of an EU country and you want to spend more than 90 days at a time in France, you will need a visa. This has always been the case for non-EU nationals such as Americans and Australians, but since Brexit it also applies to Brits.

Many British second-home owners who were previously accustomed to splitting their time equally been France and the UK now have to either limit their stay or get a visa.

We’ve got a complete guide to how the 90-day rule works HERE

And a step-by-step guide to getting a visa HERE

There are many different types of visa, but the one that many second-home owners have opted for is the 6-month visitor visa. This allows you to keep your main residency in your home country without having to worry about things like tax status, but enjoy lengthy visits to your French property.

But if you have a six-month visa, then what are the rules for the other six months of the year?

Essentially, having a visa suspends the 90-day rule when you are coming to France – so within the period of validity of your visa you can spend as much time in France as you like and you don’t need to worry about counting the days.

However it’s important to note that this is only the case for France – the 90-day rule covers the whole of the EU and Schengen zone, so if you make any trips to – for example – Germany or Spain during the period when your French visa is activated, those days still count towards your 90 day limit.

Once your visa has expired, you revert to the 90-day rule when it comes to trips to France, meaning that you can be here for 90 days out of every 180 but at the end of that period you must leave the Schengen zone.

This operates on a rolling calendar, so you always count back 180 days from the present date to see how many days you have spent in the EU in that period, and therefore how many you have left – if you’re confused, the online Schengen calculator HERE allows you to input your dates and work out your total. 

If you intend to roll your visa period directly into your 90 days you will need to leave the Schengen zone at least for one day, otherwise it will appear that you have overstayed your visa – you need to exit the EU, and then re-enter without a visa to allow your days to be correctly calculated.


And a quick note on tax. The 90-day rule and visa rules refer to your immigration status, but if you intend to spend up to nine months of the year in France, you need to also check your tax status both in France and in your home country to avoid breaching the rules on tax residency.

Immigration checks

Over the years France has earned itself a reputation as being one of the less strict countries in Europe when it comes to policing stays from visitors. However, Brexit appears to have changed this with many people reporting stricter border checks and some people being fined or having their passports stamped for over-staying their 90 days.

It’s likely that you won’t be checked every time you enter and leave, but if you are caught overstaying a visa or a 90-day limit, the penalties can be more severe than a simple fine. If your passport is stamped as an over-stayer it is likely to make future travel (anywhere in the EU, not just in France) more difficult, and you may also be rejected for future visas.