Sunday, 9 September 2007

The 10 year turkey itch

I've lived in France for just over 10 years now. To be even more precise, I've spent most of the past 11 years here.

I've been through the entire expat cycle of ups and downs many times. I went from wanting to fit in to wanting to be American to hating the French to hating the Americans to wanting to not be anything to just being a foreigner wherever I went. I think I can safely say, after 10 years that I am neither here nor there and most of the year, I'm fine with it.

But around this time every year, as the leaves in Lille turn brown and the sun doesn't come up until 7:30am, I start to get nostalgic for North Eastern falls. The sound of crackling leaves under my feet as I run. The beautiful red and orange trees down the street from my parents' and the smell of the chestnut trees on an Indian Summer day. I can safely say that I get downright homesick at Thanksgiving. Systematically.

I remember practically being in tears my first Thanksgiving away (and I don't think my bout with depression at the time helped or the fact that my only "friend" was a girl I'd been in college with whom I never got along - it was mutual - and ended up being in Aix -en-Provence at the same time as I). And although I've tried to do Thanksgiving most years, last year with the American club of Lille, it's not the same. I love sharing the wonderful food and warmth with French, English, St. Lucian friends. But I just want to relax and stuff my face and not have to explain why and hear," oh so you killed all the natives and now you thank them." I miss spending all morning in the kitchen with my mother and hearing my father raking the leaves outside and I miss my big sister.

People seem surprised when I still say I need to go "home" after 10 years in France. It's a bit of a puzzle really since France is home after all. My husband and daughter are here. My job, my entire adult life...

I'm often asked if I prefer France or the US. The answer isn't so straight forward. There are certain things I prefer in France like affordable universities, universal health care, job protection, etc. And certain things I prefer in the US like customer service for one! But if I went to live in the States now, I'd be like a 20 year old again. I wouldn't know the first thing about renting an apartment or paying my utilities.

It's been almost a year since I was last "home", the longest time span in 11 years. It's been 4 years since I've been home for Thanksgiving. So I hope no one will reproach me if I stuff my face in NJ this year. As Suzanne would say, "wowooo wowoo wowoo." Can't wait to be home! And now all I have to do is worry about traveling with a toddler.


wcs said...

It certainly makes perfect sense to me. Fall is my favorite time of year and when I lived in California it just wasn't the same as the northeastern falls that I remembered.

Now, in France, fall is more like fall and I really enjoy it.

For years I've forsaken the turkey in favor of a gigot d'agneau. It's a long standing tradition in our house. But I still make pumpkin pie, and now I can grow my own pumpkins.

I know you'll enjoy your trip. Can you check toddlers as baggage ? Now you know I'm just kidding about that, right ?

Nicole said...

It's been 10 years for me too. Definitely neither here nor their.

Amy H said...

Five years for me the first time, and two and 1/2 this time. I don't know where to call home now - seriously!

And I definitely did the expat cycle the first time around. Nice to be through that now and be able to see the good and bad sides of both countries and know you can survive living anywhere.

Alethea said...

I could have written your blog post. Thanks for getting there first. 13 years and every autumn, I still miss New England. However, September has been fabulous in Toulouse as the days get shorter and cooler so it compensates - up till now I had been in Paris and that's a lot more like Lille weather. It's rather like California here - and when I used to live in CA, I also missed New England!

As far as turkey for Thanksgiving, the "hard discount" chain Lidl has frozen turkeys around the right time of year (for us), and in certain Monoprix/Franprix and other chains you can now get Ocean Spray cranberry juice and even sauce (in the "English" foreign foods section often, rather than with the "American" marshmallow fluff, peanut butter and BBQ sauce). In Paris, you could sometimes get french cranberries at the local supermarket - that was awesome. Sweet potatoes are easy enough to come by, and I usually make broccoli... (not real "early American" but what the hell).

And I don't know about you, but I cry every September 11th. I was here in France with my young children, watching the towers collapse on replay when I got home from work, and wondering which of my friends and family were where, and thinking that finally, we Americans were getting a taste of what so much of the rest of the world has to experience. The "it's not fair" factor.

MadameK. Located in said...

I'm not at all a fan of Thanksgiving, but you just made me crazy hungry for pumpkin pie!

Reb said...

WCS, I am going tosee if I can put her in the overhead compartment so I can sleep a little.

Nicole, Amy...there are advantages to being an expat, right? Right?

Alethea, real turkey? I have to fight my chicken butcher to special order one for me every year! And two years ago, I actually drove to a farm in east bumble where they killed a Christmas turkey early for me. Poor guy never got the chance to take the milk he would have been fed to make him nice and tender. It was the best turkey I've ever had. My mother still talks about it.

Madame K, I was never a pumpkin pie girl but since I've been here, I have become one just to spite everyone who says, "beurk. tarte à la citrouille!"

Sarah said...

When I was living in France, a friend of a friend offered to make us Americans a real Thanksgiving dinner. We had turkey and mashed potatoes, but what I really remember was the "cranberry sauce": he had prepared a lovely bechamel and then floated tiny dried berries in it!

Bolder said...

Last year my boyfriend ordered a turkey for 10 people (there's a woman at our local market who raises them), and I was all worried that it wouldn't fit into our oven... I had in my head a turkey for 10 Americans. So imagine my surprise (and laughter) when I realized that my turkey for 10 was smaller than the turkey my dad had ordered at home for 5!

Elisabeth said...

I cannot begin to tell you how your post resonated with me.

C'est pas toujours rigolo de vivre le cul entre deux chaises mais, peu à peu, on s'y fait...

I wrote here a list of 10 things I liked and disliked about France, and ditto for the U.S.

The Late Bloomer said...

Oh, how I can relate to this, Reb! It's been five years this time around for me, with some trips back and forth as well, but fall easing into winter -- and the Christmas holidays! -- is the time when I'm most homesick... I never actually cooked a turkey dinner myself in the U.S., but there are definitely lots of things I miss about that holiday, namely the big family gathering. I love getting together with the French family here, of course, but it's just different! I agree with everyone else, and all that you said: there are great things about living in France, of course, but there are still things I miss from home. And I would be the same as you! If I moved back to the States now, I would have to start completely from square one, and I wouldn't know how to do it... I'm just so used to the "French way" of doing a lot of things now. Then again, there's still a lot of things I have to learn, too, trust me! I'll always be a foreigner after all.

One major thing I've realized gradually, most recently anyway (and I don't know if this is just the French element or also my age kicking in...) is that I find I don't want to buy or spend as much; I'm hoping this lasts, because for once I need to save money! But I just don't feel the need to get things as much anymore, and it's such a relief to have a break from the rampant consumerism back home... Even though there is definitely a fair share of that here in Paris, I just am finding myself making do with what I have. Again, I really hope that lasts!

frog4america said...

Reb, your post touched me at the deepest personal level, unfortunately for sad reasons.

I'm not American, I was born and raised in France. My wife and i rented a house in Florida 11 years ago, for 6 months, and we've been doing that every year until june, 2001. It took me a while to realize it, but we had found our place in the US and became tourists in France. I believe anyone can find his home in the US while the french society, on the other hand, is extremely rigid and exclusive. We still feel like American expats here.

So it's been 11 years since our first real thanksgiving, and 6 years since our last Christmas at "home". And all these unforgettable times of pure happiness, we shared them with our puppy, who we brought with us every year, and my wife's cousin and her husband, both in their 70s. We never spent a day without seeing them. Almost every day the husband and I would drink whiskey at Ruby Tuesday while the women went on their endless shopping sprees, we had dinner together 6 days a week at least, we even brought them in strip-clubs and night-clubs on a few occasions.

Now for the sad part : our dog (the iris of my eyes) died a week ago after 9 months battling cancer, and the husband of my wife's cousin died earlier this year. Reading your post made me reminisce about the good old days but also made me face the fact that... even if we got our wealth back and rented the same house, the same car, got the biggest turkey in town, it still wouldnt be home again. It's something we easily forget but we cant buy time so remember this the next time you feel guilty about enjoying life at home with the people you love (okay that sounded a bit french but it's not meant in a patronizing way at all).

Deb said...

I know exactly how you feel. Although I haven't been here as long as you, I always miss that time of year back home.

I'm happy that you are able to go back and be with your family for Thanksgiving. Watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade and eat some extra pumpkin pie (topped with cool whip!) for me will ya?! ;o)

Reb said...

Sarah, my first Thanksgiving turkey in France was stuffed with chestnuts...and there was no cranberry in sight. Eek.

Bolder, the same thing happened to us a couple years ago when we went to the farm for turkeys; I insisted on getting to because they were "small". But since everyone was French ,we didn't even finish 1 bird! I had turkey pot pie, turkey curry, turkey soup for weeks...

Elisabeth, I love that expression. I really appreciate your list.

Late Bloomer, I too need less and less things. At this point, it's the essentiels like thanksgiving and cabot's private stock cheddar cheese.

frog4america, thank you for your words. I am touched by your story and understand all too well the pain of losing a dear pet. Thanksgiving for me is also about my dog, Brownie, who we had to put down the Friday after Thanksgiving a few years back. It seems she waited for the entire family to be home so she could say goodbye.

Deb, I will gladly have some pumpkin pie whip cream for ya! But I think I'll avoid the parade if you don't mind.

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