With Turkey Day flying entirely under the radar here in France, I felt a big surge of homesickness when Nov. 22 finally rolled around. Unlike most of my friends at home, I did not get a day off from school and homework, but I did somehow manage–in a world far removed from pilgrims and Indians–to accomplish the three things tied most closely to contemporary Thanksgiving: football, food and family.
First of all, after class a girlfriend of mine in Paris invited me to attend her French boyfriend’s rugby match. It was a beautiful day and I didn’t want to continue sulking in my homesickness, so I gladly accepted. We made precisely five different transfers and traveled nearly two hours before arriving at this field, which was entirely outside of Paris in a cute little suburb called Pontoise. We had a fun adventure but were relieved when we finally found the stadium. After entering the gates, we were a bit shocked to find out we’d be the only fans at the match, but we didn’t care because the field was located just on the banks of an adorable river and it truly was a beautiful Parisian day, with autumn leaves falling and the sun shining low just before setting.
Plus, for my friend and I, we got to be up close and personal with real French rugby players! Now I know it’s not American football, but it’s still buff men rolling around on the grass and passing a ball around, so it was essentially the same thing to us. After the game, we rode back in the players’ van through rush-hour Parisian traffic. That gave us a chance to talk a little with the guys, although they mostly just mocked us when we “oh my gosh”-ed at the Eiffel Tower. They were funny and kind and spoke way too quickly for me to understand most things, but it was great to be hanging out with normal, everyday Parisian guys our age.
After our dose of football, I joined a large group of American students for a Thanksgiving dinner in the heart of Paris. My school organized this little feast at Chez Francoise, one of the most chic restaurants that I had ever been to and right next to the Eiffel Tower. There was one young server assigned to our table whose sole responsibility was to refill our wine glasses, seemingly after each time we took a sip. The entree (which means starter in France) was a rich pumpkin soup. I had the vegetarian main course of creamy mashed potatoes, yams and deliciously seasoned roasted vegetables. We finished with one of the best cheesecakes I’ve ever tasted, and of course fresh espresso and small dark chocolates as we talked and sipped wine after the meal.
It was quite heartwarming to be in the company of my new family here in Paris, my closest friends and fellow students, who were equally missing out on festivities at home. We even went around the table to say what we were thankful for, and of course just about everyone said they were thankful to be in the most beautiful city on earth.
But I also got a dose of my real family in Edmonds, thanks to the wonderful invention of Skype. I was able to video chat with my parents, my brother, my aunts, uncles and cousins at around 1 a.m. my time, just as I was about to call it a night and just as they were about to sit down to Thanksgiving dinner. It was a perfect way to wrap up my “virtual” Thanksgiving away from home, and of course my homesicknesses was cured knowing I have family missing me on the other side of the world.
Although the French have really no understanding when it comes to American Turkey day, it seems to be about the only American festivity that they have yet to adopt. On Halloween, for example, the Parisians decked out in all kinds of frightening make up and zombie costumes. Even some of the bars strung cotton spider-webs along the ceilings while the bartenders dressed up as pirates and put fake eyeballs in the cocktails. My host parents even told me that last year they received several trick-or-treaters at their gate, and while they thankfully had a few chocolates lying around to give out, my host-father joked that he was about to start giving the parents bottles of wine from their cellar when the candy ran out.
But no American celebration had been prominent in French society quite like the presidential election of early November. I had not expected anything like it: The press stands were filled with the face of Barack Obama, his name was on everyone’s lips in the metro, and my host-parents had watched both his and Romney’s post-election speeches. Even the 14-year old boy that I teach knew all about Obama (and knew quite a bit about the French president’s tax plans, to boot). I was astounded at how important the election was to the French.
When I asked my Parisian political science teacher, who wore his Obama T-shirt to school on Nov. 5, why he thought the election bore such significance abroad, he gave me a simple, honest answer. He told me that the French love to criticize America, its policies, leaders and citizens, but they could never deny how big an impact the Leader of the Free World truly has on the French, European and international scenes. For me, having lived in the United States all my life, I never realized truly how much our country has the ability — and responsibility — to positively influence other countries. So here’s hoping we don’t let them down.
Au Revoir from Paris!
Amanda Waldron, a 2010 graduate of Edmonds-Woodway High School and a junior at Santa Clara University, is studying in Paris this fall and has agreed to write about her experiences for My Edmonds News.