Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving a la France

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. The clock tells me that ya'll in Texas are sitting at the dinner table right about now and I hope you are going around saying what you're thankful for in turn.

Here in France there is no Thanksgiving. It is a uniquely American holiday, and for that I am proud. I told my young cousin about the no Thanksgiving in France thing the other day via Skype and she said in her adorable East Texas accent, 'Aw, that's sad.'. And it kinda is.

As an American, Thanksgiving abroad can be one of the saddest days of the year. Everyone just goes about their business; work, school, shopping. No one wonders why I'm stockpiling dried cranberries to rehydrate into some semblance of cranberry relish (thanks Mom) or why I've got a crazed  look in my eye as I search the meat counter for a whole turkey. One that hasn't been reduced to far flung parts.

Today I am thankful. And I'll tell you why.

I made pumpkin cupcakes with cream cheese frosting to take to the Big Kids' classes. The Middlest's teacher asked me to come prepared to say a few words about our holiday and Ma Fille's teacher asked her to do the same. I was nervous. So what I did was write it out in English and then translate the whole thing in the cheat's way. I also found a cute piece of clip art featuring a big empty turkey ready to filled up with all the things we're thankful for and so I printed that out for each student.
This afternoon after lunch, armed with my cupcakes, translated story of Thanksgiving and cute turkey, I stood before the Middlest's class. I read one sentence in English and he read the corresponding sentence in French. We did  this back and forth with his teacher explaining in detail, using the map and bringing the immigrant thing home by saying how we're like Pilgrims for moving from home to here. She made it come alive and spent an incredible amount of time on our holiday. I couldn't have been more thankful.

At one point, the Middlest switched from reading the French sentences to reading the English ones. His fellow students never hear him speak English, much less read it aloud standing in front of the class. He read aloud, strong and proud, 'Modern day Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of every November.' My heart swelled. We have been worried about his English reading, afraid it was suffering from the focus at such a tender time on the French, but no. He read difficult sentences with no stalls, stutters or problems. I think the little girl who has been in love with him from the beginning just about fell out of her chair, poor thing. He's a bilingual super boy!

The class worked hard thinking of their reasons to be thankful, most leaning towards extra-curricular activities like playing football and riding horses. One little girl's turkey filled thankful sentence stood out though. She was thankful to live in France and attend French schools and to have new books and supplies. The Middlest was thankful for his family.

I told his teacher that her allowing me to spend the afternoon with them, explaining and sharing the meaning of Thanksgiving had made my day. I told her how thankful I was for her--for the time she'd taken and the gift she'd given my son in highlighting his culture.

So cream cheese frosting is lost on French kids. Who cares?
I am thankful for it all. For this life, my children, the opportunity to live in France and all of our immeasurable blessings.

Happy Thanksgiving. Wherever you are.


Monday, November 14, 2011

The Perfect Result

As a way of helping you to understand where I'm coming from and why the Heineken Cup rugby tournament matters to me in the least I'll lay out a few facts for you.

Fact #1 We lived outside Dublin, Ireland for five years and I got a super crush on Leinster rugby player Brian O'Driscoll. He epitomizes all that is handsome in a pasty-white-legged Irish way.

Fact #2 Rugby is the only sport I can actually bring myself to watch, sauf tennis which isn't really in the same genre. It's that it's so much faster than American football and so much more rugged and manly than football.

Fact #3 Ma Fille's class plays rugby every Thursday as a complement to their regular PE/Sports Day and she loves it.

Fact #4 Montpellier has an American/Fijiian player on their rugby team, he came to visit Ma Fille's class and she got his autograph, they being the only English speakers in the group.

Fact #5 This is the first time Montpellier has been in the Heineken Cup.

All of the above combined to create the perfect rugby storm when Leinster and Montpellier turned out to be in the same grouping for a round of play and were scheduled to play last weekend here in Montpellier.
Of course we had to go. And we took the big kids with us.

Big Kids, Coke & Me (avid fan just behind)
Building up to the big match or as it was marketed here, the 'Tres Gros Match' which of course I choose to think of as the 'Very Fat Match', we were torn....would we cheer for the Irish boys of Leinster, our home for so long, the place that made such a lifelong impression and changed us as a family? Or would we root for the home team?
Both teams wear blue so we couldn't declare any allegiance through fashion choices which only allowed for more indecision.
On the walk up to the stadium we spotted the Irish fans from yards away....blonde, red, sandy brown, fair skin, light eyes and a certain je ne sais quoi that proclaimed their ancestry even before the peal of inflected English could reach out and stir feelings of  longing. I know I often say that I was on the verge of tears about something and you probably think I'm completely starkers. But. I am not ashamed to say that I puffed up a little bit then too. When I saw and heard the familiarity, in this, a place made so different by the huge force of language, it made me wistful. And I wanted to put my arms around every one of those barrel chested Irish and chant, 'Leinnnnn-ster, Leinnnnn-ster!'. My decision had been made for me.

Funny thing was, our seats were smack dab in the middle of a sea of French. Next to me was an avid Montpellier fan, banging and clacking his accordion folded program and joining in the 'Ici, ici, Montpellier!' as loud as his voice would allow. Then there was the balding man with his French scarf tied jauntily who looked back at us with surprise when we cheered for Leinster as they took the field. 'Bonjour!', I said happily and he replied in kind, unable to wipe the look of confusion from his face.

Matters were made more perplexing when Montpellier scored a try right in front of us and we all four jumped up, cheering and clapping for our adopted home's team triumph. Back and forth it went. A good natured afternoon of confusion and excitement. The avid fan to my left asked why we were cheering for both and I explained, 'J'habite ici mais je suis d'Irlande.' A tiny omission of my true Americanness for simpliclity's sake. He laughed and said he understood and continued to shout 'Putain!!' at the top of his lungs to the immeasurable delight of the big kids.

They'd never been to a live sporting event before so were blown away by the experience; the noise, frisson and crackle of tension in the air, the chance to have a Coca-Cola and bag of chips. They smiled all the way through and took it in turns cheering for each team as they spoke a mish mash of English and French. I shouted 'Allez Leinster!' a few times before I realized how weird that really was.

Up Close & Personal
In the end it was a draw: 16-16. Thanks to Johnny Sexton who Mon Mari swears heard him shout 'Atta boy Johnny!!' therefore giving him the courage to kick it through the posts for the tie despite all the noise.
The Very Fat Match was a Very Fat Success.
As we walked back to our car, flushed and full of warmth for our fellow man, Irish and French alike, we held hands and talked it all over, happy that we didn't have to choose. For us it was the perfect result.