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AMERICANS IN FRANCE

Readers’ tips: How to create an authentic Thanksgiving in France

For many Americans, the fourth Thursday in November - aka Thanksgiving - is the most important holiday in their cultural calendar.

Readers' tips: How to create an authentic Thanksgiving in France
A traditional turkey dinner. Photo: Alex Moore/Getty/AFP

And while the Americans living in France may be far from home, that won’t stop thousands of them celebrating – even if they don’t get the public holiday like they do back home and have to miss out on watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and American football on TV.

American restaurants in Paris that run special Thanksgiving nights usually get booked up months in advance.

So, instead many will gather in groups across France to devour the traditional turkey with cranberry sauce and take advantage of their adopted home by sinking a few glasses of French wine, no doubt.

We asked our American readers for their tips on creating the perfect Thanksgiving when they are a long way from US stores.

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Where in France do all the American expats live?

If you’re among the Americans who will be celebrating at home in France, according to our US readers, things have really improved in terms of accessibility to the foodstuffs you’re used to eating at this time of year back home. 

ChrisInParis tweeted: “Unlike in the past, it’s fairly easy to buy everything you need, though count on paying a lot (€80) for a turkey”, adding that certain ingredients such as sweet potatoes and cranberries are easier to track down than they used to be (see tweet below).  

 
 

Chris also warned that it is unlikely that you will be able “to walk in and find a turkey”.

“They’re bred to be ready for Christmas so you need to order in advance. They will be small (around 4 kilo) for the same reason as above,” he tweeted.

Remember that the French for turkey is une dinde – not le dindon as that applies to the living animal.

Also be warned that items like canned pumpkins might still be tricky to get your hands on. 

At this time of year, however, most markets have fresh pumpkins, so you can buy pumpkin pieces, bake and puree them yourself. 

 
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Similarly, you’d be lucky to find Ocean Spray cranberry sauce, French’s French Fried Onions and Stouffer’s Stuffing so that means cooking Thanksgiving dinner in France involves a lot more planning because so many of the dishes have to be prepared from scratch. 

Fresh cranberries are fairly widely available in markets and supermarkets.

Some readers recommended handy websites when it comes to planning and preparing your French Thanksgiving. 

Tish Devling described Alex French Guy Cooking‘s Thanksgiving prep timeline and recipe sources for nine dishes as “pretty epic”. 

While Gina Dellilios recommended food publication Bon Appetit which has a selection of articles covering various aspects of Thanksgiving from the meal from how to produce the perfect brussels sprouts to Thanksgiving cocktails and, of course, the turkey

For Americans who have children in France Thanksgiving provides the perfect chance to introduce them to an American tradition.

“As a father it has become important. A way to show my son a bit of good old America,” Jeff Steiner who leads the group Americans in France previously told The Local.

However even with the best intentions if you’re living in a small apartment, the cooking itself can be tough. 

One American living in France said that with this in mind, with all the baking and roasting that awaits you, you might want to ask a friendly neighbour – preferably one who has been invited to dinner – if you can rent out or borrow their oven for the day.

And let’s not forget about the decorations. 

Getting hold of those may be even more difficult than getting hold of some of the more traditional foodstuffs but don’t worry, there are lots of websites with ideas for how to make them at home – and if you have kids, no doubt they’d love to get involved in this side of the preparations. 

But if after reading this, you think going the whole hog and creating a traditional Thanksgiving in France is just too much effort, you could always keep the most important elements – gathering loved ones together for food and drink – and ditch the turkey.

“Just throw a dinner party and call it Thanksgiving,” said Sarah Schmidt.  

But however you plan to celebrate it, Happy Thanksgiving from The Local. 

Member comments

  1. I don’t live in Paris, I live in the Gard. It is far more difficult to find cranberries and can pumpkin here. But why not order the spices and buy a pumpkin? It is like a treasure hunt, to find all f the missing items one needs for a great Thanksgiving. The most important ingredient is the people! We will have a ball. Dinde and all!

    1. We live in the Vaucluse, so the search for American-style ingredients is not easy. We discovered the website myamericanmarket.com which has both Ocean Spray Cranberry Sauce (canned) as well as Libby’s Canned Pumpkin. If you are cooking-challenged, as I am, they also carry StoveTop Stuffing! Ikea has a lingonberry jam, which is very good and we find the flavor is quite similar to the taste of cranberry sauce.

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CULTURE

A guide for how to survive fall in France for homesick Americans

Looking to recreate American autumn festivities while living in France? Here are some of The Local's tips for how to avoid the seasonal homesickness this year.

A guide for how to survive fall in France for homesick Americans

For many, fall or autumn is a sacred time in the United States, marked by spooky cobwebs, weekends filled with visits to pumpkin patches, jugs of apple cider, and searching for the perfect Halloween costume. 

It is an easy time of year to feel homesick for Americans living in France, especially when it feels like you are missing out on holidays like Halloween and Thanksgiving with friends and family at home.

READ MORE: Readers’ tips: How to create an authentic Thanksgiving in France

While it might never be the same as a New England fall, here are some tips on how to make autumn in France feel a bit more like home:

For when you miss pumpkin patches:

Yes this is possible in France! Pumpkins grow in fields across central France, and they are available in most supermarkets once the fall season has begun. However, if you are looking for a traditional pumpkin patch experience, that might be a bit trickier to find. If you devote yourself to a bit of research, then you will likely be able to find a ‘Fête de la Citrouille‘ or ‘Foire à la citrouille‘ (Pumpkin festivals) near you. These are more like fall fairs, complete with ‘heaviest pumpkin’ competitions and food stands.

While these might be a bit different from what you are used to, they are a great way to enjoy pumpkins (in a French way).

Many of these events will be announced on Facebook, so you can start by searching there. 

If you live in the Paris region there are a few pumpkin patches not too far outside of the city. The ‘Fermes de Gally‘ host a yearly pumpkin picking and carving festival. You could also visit “Ferme du Logis” or the “Vergers de Champlain.”

For when you want to celebrate Halloween:

You have a few options for trick-or-treating, if that’s your thing. You can always organise a private event with some other Halloween enthusiasts. Though, keep in mind that in France people say “des bonbons ou un sort” instead of ‘trick-or-treat’ in English. The other option is to see whether your local mairie is hosting an event. While Halloween is definitely not as popular in France as it is in the United States, it is becoming more common. 

If you are looking for a more official, organised event, you might consider going to the “Disney Halloween Festival.” During the festivities, the ‘villains’ take over the park, which is fully decorated for Halloween. When you enter the park, you’ll be greeted by smiling scarecrows with pumpkins on their heads, lanterns lighting up the park, and characters in ‘scary’ (kid-friendly) costumes.

During the actual Halloween weekend, the park hosts dedicated soirées. Tickets usually go for 79€ to 89€ per person.

Another option, particularly if you have older kids looking for a scarier Halloween, might be Parc Asterix. Each year, usually for the entirety of the month of October, the park is decked out in autumn colours with pumpkins, corn, and even straw bales. If you want to take younger children, you can go to the ‘Petit frisson’ (small scare) section. 

For when you miss pumpkin flavoured everything:

You do not have to give up pumpkin spice if you stay in France this fall! Starbucks (with locations across the country) sells pumpkin spice lattes.

If you want to make your own PSL, you can find ‘pumpkin spice’ in France (with a bit of effort). Carrefour reportedly sells the seasoning (see HERE). For the truly determined, you can find pumpkin spice on French Amazon too. 

The best bet for finding pumpkin spice – for all your baking and coffee needs – is to see if there is a local American épicerie or store near you. You might try the “Brooklyn Fizz” store in Lyon; “The Great McCoy” market in Paris; or the “Épicerie Americaine” in Bordeaux.

If there are not any, you can always try the online store “My American Market.”

For pumpkin scented candles, you can either replace with another fall scent (search: “bougie parfumées automne“) or you can order a Bath and Body Works candle online – see HERE

Finally, if you are looking to make a homemade pumpkin pie, consider doing so with an actual pumpkin. Pumpkin purée is hard to come by in France, but chopping up the pumpkin yourself is certainly one way to satisfy the craving.

For when you miss apple picking and cider:

In France, Normandy and Brittany are known for apple production, with their own apple cider traditions. Take a trip to Normandy and enjoy apple and cider festivals – learn more HERE.  

READ MORE: French figures: The drink that sparked a regional crockery battle

While the festivals might be lacking in apple cider donuts, you can always try your hand in making some homemade. Most of the ingredients should be accessible, though you might struggle a bit early in the season with locating nutmeg (muscade en français). As the fall season goes on, most large grocery store chains ought to stock up.

For apple pie cravings, consider trying the French equivalent: tarte aux pommes. Though it might be exactly the same as American apple pie with vanilla ice cream on top, it is still delicious and available in most boulangeries. 

If you live in the Paris area, or you are visiting, you can check out Boneshaker Donuts. The owners combine French and American traditions, and always have a full fall assortment. 

For when you miss American football:

Another source of homesickness for many Americans is the lack of American football on television in France. 

If you have a VPN on your computer, you might not run into this issue as much, but for those looking to simply watch football on cable TV, you have some options as well.

Comparitech recommends France’s two official NFL broadcasters: L’Equipe and beIN Sports. L’Equipe reportedly airs every Sunday game and playoff live, including the Super Bowl. It is free to use, so you do not need to purchase a premium subscription to view NFL games. 

Another tip might be to visit Irish, British or Scottish pubs in your area. Oftentimes, they will have access to sports channels that air NFL games too. 

For college football, Hulu’s live TV option should allow you to stream most games. 

Unfortunately, the ESPN + subscription will locate your IP address, so this is not possible without a VPN. However, you can purchase the NFL Game Pass and use it from France. You can choose between watching the Redzone or simply a single, specific game. This also allows you to split your screen, so you can watch multiple games at once.

For when you are just generally homesick:

While this might not be the perfect antidote, it might be an opportunity to make the most out of France’s fall traditions. You can start creating new hobbies and pastimes that might just become your craving this time next year. Visit a spooky French cemetery, go to your local market and buy fresh squash and Brussels sprouts, sip mulled wine, or even go out foraging for mushrooms.

The Local put together a full guide to autumn in France HERE.

READ MORE: 11 ways to make the most of autumn in France

If you are missing the foliage, consider going for a hike or weekend trip to any of these French locations that are known for stunning fall views. 

At the end of the day, if you really cannot handle being far from home during autumn, consider simply visiting the US. While flights to the US are always going to be pricey, the trip is usually cheaper in autumn than during peak times, such as summer vacation or Christmas. This off-season trip might be what you (and your wallet) needs.

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