Debra: The Turkey Hunt
I knew I was in trouble when my mobile phone was disconnected because I spent too long talking to the internet company’s helpline. I remember hearing that the technology behind the World Wide Web was created in France, but people seem able to go without it here — it’s like they see it like premium cable. They don’t mind having it, but they can do without. I found it was pretty difficult to go to internet cafés with a 14-month-old who refuses to sit still (they even have a brand-new family-oriented café with wifi here, but my son seemed to think the kitchen was much more intriguing than the play area. So let’s just say I was pretty desperate to get my internet connection (and phone, since it’s via internet) working again. Three weeks and a lot of plaintive phone calls later, I feel like I’ve just come back from a trip to 1990.
Anyway, the phone got connected the week before Thanksgiving, which kept me from having to go to the butcher in person every day to see how he was progressing on getting me a turkey. He assured me that everything was going to work out — my parents are visiting from San Francisco, and I had invited two other families over, so I was pretty set on getting my bird. He told me he would be closed the Monday before Thanksgiving so I should call him on Tuesday to “confirm.” Of course, when I called him on Tuesday, he told me everything was just fine for Friday….he didn’t seem to understand the concept of the Thursday holiday. So it seems the original turkey I had ordered got a pardon until Christmas!
I called the big grocery stores in the area and no one could get me a turkey until December. On a whim I went to the local market, where I got my very own Thanksgiving mini-miracle — a poultry seller who knew about Thanksgiving and could even find a turkey to kill by Thursday! It cost me 48 euros and it was the skinniest turkey my mother had ever seen, but it sure did taste good. We even had cranberries!
Anyway, it was our first Thanksgiving in France and it made me realize that while I’m still frustrated by a lot of things here — students who plagiarize their essays from wikipedia, crazy drivers, pharmacies that are closed on Monday, everything else that is closed on Sunday — it is starting to feel like home. One of the things that always strikes me is that it really will be home for my son. French will probably be his best language, he won’t think everything here is unusually small, and Thanksgiving will be a strange holiday that only his family celebrates. I live in a foreign country, but he doesn’t — he just has a foreign mother. I shouldn’t think this is too strange, since my mother is also an immigrant. But part of me, as an American, still goes around thinking that I can’t possibly be the foreign one — maybe it’s even because my mother is not a native-born American and always told me I was lucky I was. Anyway, just things I’ve been thinking about in general and in my writing this past month — origins, roots and, well, turkey.
debra, yours is a fun fish out of water tale. i moved a few years ago from boston area to southeast va, and still feel like a fish out of water. while we had a turkey, very easily, for t-day (i am the lone veggie in the house, even my boys have turned to the ‘dark side’) i am very aware of my own cultural differences from this very conservative area.
i love your perspective on your son’s position in his culture, yours and your mother’s. you’ve a generational thing happening there that is quite individual.
Your turkey story reminds me of the two years I spent as an exchange student.
1993 in Holland. My host family procured me a turkey for Thanksgiving, but none of us had any idea how to cook it… and there’s no Dutch Butterball hotline. Fast forward a couple of hours and we sit down to an uncooked bird and a lot of Stove Top stuffing flown in from the states. Not exactly a ringing endorsement of American holiday cuisine. It was the saddest Thanksgiving of my life.
1995 in Hungary. Before Christmas my host family said they typically had goose for Christmas dinner and what did we eat? I waxed poetic about turkey but neve expected they would cook me one of my own. I don’t even want to know how much they paid for it or even how they found one. They weren’t wealthy people by any means. And we’re talking about just barely post-communist Eastern Europe… They weren’t importing much from outside the country yet. But Christmas dinner arrived, and they brought out a tray. Goose on one side. Turkey on the other. My host mother had cooked it as only a Hungarian could, paprika-ed and garlic-ed and juicy with fat. Ever since then, I’ve always found my American-cooked turkeys a little bland.
I love this post, Debra. The romantic idea (mine) of living in a foreign country colliding with the reality of living there, and what “foreign” really means.
Such an interesting idea, being a “foreign mother.” An American friend of mine has lived in Paris for many years and has a six-year-old daughter in school. While the daughter doesn’t love it when her mother speaks in English at school, it’s even worse when her mother speaks French, because the slight accent that still lingers is apparently mortifying. So, speaking in English — and being “different” in that regard — is preferable to speaking French imperfectly and being different in THAT regard. (This, in my experience, is such a terribly Parisian perspective — please, just speak English and spare us the dreaded accent!)
haha! i can totally see that, miranda! i have a friend in the boston area (hm, i should give you her info, you’d like each other) who was raised til age 11 in french speaking switzerland by her german father and italian mother. they moved stateside at that time, which threw her into a culture shock of living in rural NH after cosmopolitan geneva and self-consciously speaking ‘broken english’. still, having spent time around her parents, who are very funny, i watched her continue to translate her mother’s mishmash sentences of german-italian-english even as she had her own children. and funny enough, with a couple of drinks for her mother and me, i was able to understand her perfectly!
love your story debra. this line particularly cracked me up: “a poultry seller who knew about Thanksgiving and could even find a turkey to kill by Thursday”. makes you think about the things you really take for granted sometimes.