“Sanksgeeving” in Réunion

I spent the week before Thanksgiving, or “Sanksgeeving” as my French kids say, teaching a lesson on the holiday – it’s ties to the Battle of Gettysburg, American football, the Macy’s Day Parade, and the horrors of Black Friday. I showed them videos of the latter via YouTube that bewildered and terrified, apocalyptic-like scenes of consumer-hungry Americans forcing their way into stores, tearing through metal gates, and trampling one another for 50% off.

They were most interested in the food. When you’re so habituated to something, like baked sweet potatoes and marshmallows or pumpkin pie for that matter, it’s strange to see someone try and wrap their head around it for the first time. Seeing It from their perspective makes you think, Yeah, slicing a can-shaped, gelatinous wad of cranberries to eat with my turkey is a bit weird. What is also quite amazing is how you can spend a full hour dissecting the components of pie, green bean casserole, and gravy.

“It’s like a tarte, but not…” I can’t really tell you why, so I’m just going to say it confidently. “It’s pie, and it’s different… and green bean casserole, you take french-fried onions…” How do you explain what french-fried onions are to a French person? The situation felt so ironically convoluted I just trailed off when explaining. Before arriving, I was hoping to live the French version of Dead Poet’s Society. A bit ambitious in hindsight.

What else I find strange is being left to one’s own devices for the holidays. The most I have ever been asked to do to help out with Thanksgiving is to eat more food so that less would have to come home. Christmas has entailed buying gifts, helping set up the tree, and holding the ladder for my dad while he strung all the lights given that I was home. Seeing as I was away for college for four years, my actions were to come home, open presents and enjoy the delicious food that my family made. Don’t worry about gifts; “You’re a poor college student and your company is the present!”

So, when some of the assistants put together an American Thanksgiving event, the concept of organizing a holiday was weird, especially being away from home on a tiny French-speaking island that nobody has ever heard of. What does this mean? I thought. Am I becoming more of an actual adult, contributing to Thanksgiving and not just benefiting? Here I am, looking up recipes to bring food to a holiday get-together, and I still can’t grow facial hair to save my life, I’ve sold basically everything to come to the island, and my dad still files my taxes every year.

Plans to make sweet potatoes and marshmallows fell through as the only ones I could find were blue and smurf-themed and no sweet potatoes. Thus, Will, Alex and myself came with breakfast-y things – Nutella, jam, bread, juice, and oatmeal – to set out in the morning.

I had my doubts about whether or not it would actually feel like Thanksgiving, and they were proven wrong. There was a moment when people were walking in with grocery bags of Thanksgiving dishes they had made, bottles of wine and rum punch, greeting everyone with a hug or the bise, and I thought, this is quite amazing what we’ve succeeded in creating. The atmosphere was warm and jovial. We shared what we were most thankful for. Wine flowed. There were five different pies to follow an enormous meal that somehow all fit on Julia, Isabella, and Tim’s single table of their minimalist apartment. Little rotisserie chickens purchased from street vendors, casseroles, mashed potatoes, gravy and more made up the menu.

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We went for a midnight swim at the beach in St. Pierre after waistlines had somewhat receded. 12 or so of us retired to Tim’s room at the end of the night, furnished with only a double mattress on the floor and air-conditioning. It was so crowded the only open space was to allow the door to swing open fully. Most of the couch from downstairs had been disassembled to sleep on, a cushion for everyone to assuage the effects of bare tile. In keeping with the strangeness of Thanksgiving in-general, it was one of the weirdest places I have fallen asleep, yet one of the best I have ever experienced.

***

T-minus 20 hours before our 10-day trek across the island. We’ll spend Christmas in tents in the most isolated the cirques. Merry Christmas! Happy New Year, and a belated Happy Sanksgeeving!

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2 thoughts on ““Sanksgeeving” in Réunion

  1. Hi Matt! My name is Stephanie and I am considering Reunion as a TAPIF location. I was wondering what everyday life is like, if you needed a car, how expensive it is, and if you would reccommend it! Also since I read you got your first choice, how qualified were you? Also your writing is wonderful!
    Thanks

    1. Hey! I would definitely consider it! I had a great time. I had friends with cars. The cost was comparable to being in France (and the pay is much better). As far as my qualifications, I have a minor in French, worked at a French summer camp, interned with the Alliance Francaise, and studied abroad in Tours for a semester. If you would like to know anything else, feel free to find me on facebook and we can talk. Best of luck!

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