Pass the Turkey, S’il Vous Plaît: The Joys of Expat Thanksgiving

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I often claim that the best Thanksgivings are Expat Thanksgivings. 

That’s not to say that my parents aren’t great cooks, because they’re the bomb — but in terms of good ol’ American traditions, the one portrayed in Hallmark movies and elementary school pageants?

…Let’s just say Chinese food set on a table for four (because all your relatives live entirely on another continent!) doesn’t quite deliver the stereotypical Turkey Day.

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2015 was my sixth Thanksgiving in a foreign country, and my third in Paris. Here are some of the joys that keep me overseas for the best American dinner of the year:

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Thanksgivings abroad combine the best of the best. Everyone has that one dish they’re really great at making, right? So at Expat Thanksgiving everyone brings their A-game, and you basically have an entire table full of winning plates: the best stuffing, the best green bean casserole, etc. This year I made deviled eggs and Joe made his grandmother’s cranberry sauce, leaving the turkey to this guy:

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Omid & Alannah know how to turkey better than I ever could

The Red House Potluck is the place to be in Paris. The first time they hosted their Thanksgiving dinner, I took a 15-hour bus from Italy to be there. This year, we extended our time in Paris to attend this now-annual tradition. With gorgeous birds by Emperor Norton, special holiday cocktails, and tasty contributions and company from our Paris community of friends and foodies, how could we not?

Plus, it’s hosted in the back room of the bar, and Joe & Jen don’t mind sharing the love when random French bar-goers want to partake in the free food (even if they don’t at all understand the holiday behind it).

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Regional specialties galore. The USA being a big country and all, there’s Thanksgiving food I would have never encountered at home but do abroad. For example, my friend Devon from Kentucky makes an amazing chess pie, and someone Southern usually (thank goodness) brings corn bread.

Also: host country specialties! In Paris this year my friend Olivier brought a ridiculous homemade ratatouille; previous years have seen Chinese & Singaporean dishes make their way onto the dinner table, making my palate super happy. Diversity is the best.

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Shared responsibilities FTW. No one has to take full credit for the whole holiday! You can spend an hour on your one dish and then enjoy the rest of that time drinking wine and being not stressed.

Even if you do prepare a whole meal, like I did when I hosted in Singapore and China, people are a lot more forgiving if things aren’t perfect, because kitchens are much smaller abroad and your friends know you gotta make do.

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Multiple chances to celebrate. Since most people have to work on the actual Thursday, you can get up to four or five Thanksgiving dinners spread throughout the week and weekends! (Though from experience, three is a good number. Any more than that and you start to get the turkey sweats.)

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All the food. None of the family drama. That’s what I call a win-win.

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Globalization is your friend. I’m amazed at how far Paris has come, even in the last three years. Friends who cook often now report being able to find American ingredients far more easily — though cranberry sauce is still something you have to smuggle over from the States in your luggage.

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On a related note, apparently there are a few Parisian butchers willing to give you a hand for this gluttonous American holiday. Some friends had their butchers help them acquire the enormous bird — one even got his to cook the birds in the boucherie! Saving much hassle, time, and cleanup.

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Appreciation for space. I never appreciate American-sized kitchens, ovens, fridges, and living rooms more than on Thanksgiving. Although at least in Paris, you get a pretty rockin’ view to make up for the fact that you’re millimeters away from getting an elbow to the face.

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This year’s farthest-traveled winner goes to Michael & Sara who flew in from NYC!

And of course, a cheesy line about being with the friends who make up your expat family. Because it’s true — after all, friends are just the family you choose.

Do you enjoy spending Thanksgiving overseas or prefer being home for the holidays?

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  1. I completely agree! Expat Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite times of year in London, for the same reasons you listed. I just always wish there was a bit more room (in the oven, the flats, etc!).

    • Yes! I imagine London flats aren’t much better than Paris ones, so I know your pain. Things can get pretty cramped :)

  2. Awww this looks heartwarming… I can see why you once took a 15 hour bus to get there. I’d probably do the same! This makes me wanna spend Thanksgiving in Paris sometime ;) And you’re totally right about getting all the BEST of the best dishes. I think next year I’m inspired to maybe even host a Thanksgiving :)

    • Thanks Cynthia! You should definitely come join us in the future — you were only a couple weeks off this year!

  3. I’m not American, and I’ve never lived in America, but Thanksgiving is pretty much my favourite holiday – probably because I’ve always experienced it as Expat Thanksgiving! :)

  4. Love all of the photos. I would love to spend a Thanksgiving abroad some day!

  5. This sounds so fun. I’ve spent Thanksgiving abroad twice, once with my family and once without. Potluck style definitely makes things easier in those kitchens! We had fun trying to recreate our favorites with Italian ingredients we could find. Pumpkin Macaroni and Cheese was an adventure! Thanks for sharing your holiday. :)

  6. Oh I love having Thanksgiving here. And I usually get to have two, due to various groups of friends. Or due to Canadians having their Canadian Thanksgiving the month before. And while it’s impossible to find cranberry sauce or turkeys at other times of the year, Abu Dhabi is money-savvy enough to import them for the Thanksgivings and Christmas time, which is perfect, hehe.

    • Yeah, China and Singapore were getting that way too, though I’ll never forget the sting of paying $15 for a carton of egg nog in Singapore…

  7. Very nice article. I have travel various places across India and now I am planning to go overseas. Paris certainly tops my list for next thanksgiving. The photos of cuisines are nice and has inspired me to visit soon. I would love to try the local dishes and know about the culture of the place.


  1. […] the end of month I was extra grateful for friends who continued our annual Paris Thanksgiving traditions, and I also celebrated 2000 days (over six years!) on the […]