Dec 3, 2007

Importing Traditions?

Well, I'm just now recovered from Thanksgiving. It was the first time I'd ever cooked a turkey (let alone all those appetizers and side dishes).

We had 19 people over, mostly French. I was thankful for friendship, love, food, and for having been welcomed to France. And I was thankful for our American friend Nicole Darnell, who thought it was at lunchtime and showed up with a whole afternoon to help me prepare ahead of time. If she'd not been there, not only would we have had no mashed potatoes, a hairy turkey, and no walnut pie (no pecans locally), but my kids would have been tugging at my cuffs all day. Nicole's kids Joseph and Ava know how to keep our boys busy and happy. We missed their Dad Tom, who was home getting ready for an art show.

Our turkey was the smallest bird for twenty people I've ever seen, and it was literally exactly enough (phew!). I think turkeys here, having not been bred and hybrided to death for generations to feed twenty people at once, are naturally smaller... the key word being "naturally". Our little bird was tasty, tender, and unfortunately still covered in black feathers before I cooked it. John spent an hour with a lighter and some tweezers, pulling those damn things out one by one (thanks John!) while I sweated over the timing of it all.

Importing holidays and traditions is a funny thing, especially to a country that really likes to know how to do things exactly right and really well. The French are easily thrown off by things like, say, Halloween or potluck dinners.

First example, Halloween. There I was with a grandma and five little kids dressed in simple costumes, just a hat or a tail here and there and they were transformed. We had a knight, a Mickey Mouse whose costume consisted entirely of black construction paper (Fionn), a "Spiderman" (I didn't have the heart to tell Seamus that he was actually dressed as Superman, not Spiderman, but no one here really knows the difference so it didn't matter), a Bob the Builder, and a fairy.

We traipsed through the village, shouting "Halloween!" at every door ("Trick or Treat" was too hard of a first English lesson for the French kids). A very surprised man or woman would answer the door and either look helplessly at me and say, "What do I do?", or they'd reach into the open bag of candy held out by the first kid in line and take a candy out saying, "Oh, a candy, thank you!" (The kids were great, they'd just say, "What'd you get?") About five people did know it was Halloween and did actually have candy in the house, so the kids had full, sugared-up bellies by the time we got home. (One refreshing thing about Halloween in a village of fifty or so inhabitants, all of whom you know by name: The kids could eat the candy as we went, rather than have to wait for the razor-blade inspection that always followed trick-or-treating when I was little in the states.)

As for Thanksgiving potlucks, a neighbor mentioned that they were once invited to a potluck, and was amazed that someone would actually invite people over for dinner and ask them cook something for the meal. As he put it, "It seemed strange to us, I mean, the hostess was a very wealthy woman."

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