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Merci-Donnant in Paris

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The late, great Art Buchwald decided years ago to explain Thanksgiving to the French. Beginning with his breezy translation -- Merci-Donnant -- he went on to describe the pèlerins, the peaux rouges, Priscilla and John Alden and Miles Standish, and all the strange food that is consumed on that particular day.

Buchwald's column became a holiday classic, and is reprinted every year in the International Herald Tribune, where it first appeared.

I have decided to shuffle things around a bit, and explain how an American in France celebrates Thanksgiving. Or tries to.

My first attempt was during my first year in Paris, as the new correspondent in the CBS News bureau. Far from family, with no friends nearby, I convinced our bureau chief to make a Thanksgiving lunch for the whole office staff, in our tiny kitchen.

"Do it!", he said.

In those days, there was a PX at the American embassy which was available to its employees. We got special permission to buy our turkey there -- a 15-pound frozen Butterball. It took two days to defrost it, even in our overheated studio. I bought sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce at Fauchon's -- very pricey, but the only place in those days where you could find such "foreign" specialties. Our Egyptian cameraman brought some vine leaves and hummus, our Italian soundman brought some Chianti, our German cameraman brought a Dutch apple pie, and our bureau chief filled in with some Champagne. I made the stuffing with day-old baguettes.

It was a success! William Paley would have been proud, if only he'd been there to join us.

Now, many years later, many local butchers have caught on to Thanksgiving and will roast a fresh turkey for you, with a choice of chestnut or sausage stuffing. And there are American shops in Paris where (expensively) you can also get your turkey roasted and your pies baked.

But I have turned the tables, so to speak, and like to incorporate some French specialties into the holiday feast. A tarte Tatin for dessert, a cheese platter with the salad, a creamy vichyssoise, and some foie gras to start with.

At that point, I hear many of you cry "Fowl!" But really, what difference between stuffing a live goose or stuffing a dead turkey?

Bon appetit!

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