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Vivian Norris Headshot

An Expat Thanksgiving

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Or, Where to Find Cranberries and Sweet Potatoes Abroad.

The first thing every expat must know about celebrating Thanksgiving abroad is that it will be expensive. I won't tell you how much I paid for a pre-ordered organic free range turkey in Paris last year. Try finding cranberries and a decent turkey in Rome or Copenhagen, much less the outer reaches of Brazil. It can be done, but it will cost you. I usually begin shopping for Thanksgiving foods months in advance. Though one would like to think everything should be made from scratch, there are simply no pecans or Karo syrup to be found in many parts of the world. Try nailing down enough pumpkin pie filling and sweet potatoes!

But that is the whole point. Thanksgiving is about celebrating and being thankful for the bounty found in the New World, not Brazil, Paris or Vladivostok. In fact, as many pre-prepared Thanksgiving dishes are not readily available abroad, I have begun finding inventive ways to make stuffing, corn bread and a number of Thanksgiving dishes.

Tonight we will be fifteen Americans in Paris. I have prepared my part of the meal: an apple rhubarb pie, cornbread, green beans (with a European touch of pine nuts). There will surely be too much food and we will all be stuffed... but isn't that the point?

European friends love joining a Thanksgiving meal, and the biggest fans I have ever found were in Rome. Half of my group a few years ago were Italian and they were wary of the food... and ended up absolutely loving it and asking about all the ingredients. Sometimes Thanksgiving is the only time I see certain American friends in Paris. We all want to make sure our children grow up with memories of this very special holiday. And finally we can compete with the French for a focus on food!

When I grew up in Texas, we added local ethnic flavor to our family meal which was spent outside of New Braunsfels, in a German immigrant area. We added sauerkraut and venison and javalena sausage to the meal. The uncles left early in the morning to hunt deer, even my female cousin shoots her own turkey with a bow. The children all sat at one table and the adults at another. There were football games on television, people cooking and making fires and decorating the table.

It has always been my favorite American holiday. The last few years I managed to make it to New York for Thanksgiving and my daughter was able to watch the Macy's parade from a first floor window on Central Park West. I think I was more excited than she was. There is something about that city around Thanksgiving which cannot be beat. Two years in a row I spent a kosher, Orthodox Thanksgiving with a friend's family... and it was just as joyful and there was just as much good food (who knew vodka was kosher?), even if served on paper plates. There were new Americans there with us, and the spirit of what it means to be American was very much alive in the sometimes chaotic family tensions... we were both thankful and glad for that kosher vodka!

And the next day the Christmas decorations would go up... but perhaps this year the holidays will all have more meaning and depth. We know what and who we are thankful for, and are happy to have them by our side... whether in New York, or Paris or Bahia...

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