American Thanksgiving Traditions French People Might Find Weird Or Surprising

fb-what French people find strange abotut American Thankgsgiving

From traditional Thanksgiving dishes to table manners and customs, here is what a French person might find strange, unexpected or surprising about a North American Thanksgiving.

When is Thanksgiving in France?

For many families in North America, Thanksgiving is the start of the holiday season and the biggest celebration of the year with its own set of customs and traditions.

To French people, Thanksgiving is somewhat of a mystery because it’s not a French holiday, nor is it celebrated in France.

American Thanksgiving Traditions French People Might Find Weird

Although you can trace the roots of Thanksgiving back to the harvest festival of the old world, it’s largely an American and Canadian holiday celebrated on the second Monday of Octobre in Canada and the fourth Thursday of Novembre in the United States.

I grew up celebrating both an American Thanksgiving and Canadian Thanksgiving (à la Quebecoise style).

Don’t ask me which one I prefer! In our house, we do a mishmash of Canadian/American Thanksgiving with French touches.

1. French people don’t understand what Thanksgiving is about

Most French people know very little about Thanksgiving.

I’m pretty sure most of my French friends here in France would say, “Thanksgiving is an American holiday where family and friends come together around a large table to eat turkey and pumpkin pie.”

It’s not their fault.

What little they know, they learned from watching dubbed American movies and TV series like “Friends”.

TV shows like Friends teach French people about American customs.

2. Starting the holiday meal too early (2 p.m. or 3 p.m.)

Although I’m partial to serving the Thanksgiving meal at dinner time, I think it’s safe to say that a lot of people celebrate it as early as two or three in the afternoon which might be a little surprising to a French person.

French dining hours are much stricter then they are in North America.

You eat lunch at noon and dinner after 7:30 p.m. which is still on the early side.

3. Turkey should look like a turkey, not Frankenstein

Although France doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, French people are accustomed to eating a classic Christmas turkey as part of the Christmas feast.

When I say classic, I mean something along the lines of a turkey stuffed with foie gras and apples, or chestnuts and chanterelles but never one of those crazy Pinterest recipes.

Deep-fried turkey, beer can turkey, bacon wrapped turkey or turducken (a boned chicken inside a boned duck which is then placed inside a partially boned turkey).

A bacon turkeyducken might frighten your French guests

Goose, duck or Capon are also French favourites. A capon is a young cock (cockerel) that has been castrated to improve its taste.  

photo source of TurbaconDucen

4. Touching your food with your  fingers is a no no

In North American culture, it’s sometimes acceptable to eat certain foods like a drumstick with your hands.

In French culture, it’s rarely acceptable to eat food with your fingers. Especially when attending a special holiday meal where you’re supposed to use your best holiday table manners.

To use anything other than your knife and fork to eat the flesh of a turkey drumstick might seem a little bizarre to a French person. French people generally don't touch their food with their fingers

5. Salting your food before trying it- not kosher

Do you ever salt your food before even trying it? Well, shouldn’t!

In France, when you salt your food before actually trying it, it’s actually kind of rude because it indicates you don’t trust the cook.

I think the French are spot-on. It is kind of rude.

6. Not serving a cheese course

A french cheese plate course is usually expected at a special holiday meal.

Not serving a cheese course or cheese plate, especially for a critical meal during the holidays would be like not serving the main course or dessert.

Wouldn’t you notice immediately that the main course was missing? Of course, you would.

Cheese is a huge part of the French way of life. French children are exposed to and learn to appreciate all sorts of cheeses from an early age, both in school cafeterias and at home.  You could say the art of eating and serving cheese is second nature to a French person by the time they reach adulthood.

Typically, in a French home, your host might offer you one single type of cheese (always good quality), but for larger gatherings, your host will most likely create a cheese plate with a mix of soft, semi-soft, medium-hard, semi-hard and hard cheeses along with a variety of breads—rye, walnut, baguette, cumin, country bread, even gingerbread called pain d’épices.  

You might be interested in reading about these vegan French cheeses you can buy or make at home. 

7. Serving the cheese plate after the desert

Savoury before sweets “Salé avant sucré”

My whole life I’ve been eating the cheese course last or as a dessert.

Imagine how surprised I was to learn the custom in France is to serve the cheese course directly after the main course but before the desert.

I haven’t tested this theory but I think my French friends would be confused if I served the cheese plate after the desert like it’s served in North America and in Great Britain.

By the way, you probably won’t find cheddar cheese on a French cheese platter in France. Sorry!

8. Cutting your cheese the wrong way

If you do end up serving a cheese course, be careful how you slice the cheese.

Cheese comes in a variety of shapes, sizes and textures with their own optimal way of cutting. Brie for example, which is round should be cut like a pie. You should never cut the pointy edge of a wedge of cheese because that’s the best part, instead, you should slice it along the length of the wedge.

Cut a piece incorrectly and you’ll likely see your French guest or host cringe.  I’ve seen it first hand myself.

How to correctly cut your cheeses

Watch this video (in French) which shows you how to cut the cheese. The man on the left is French, and his double on the right is German who cuts the cheese completely wrong.

9. Not serving bread

There’s an expression in French “Repas Sans Pain, Repas De Rien ” a meal without bread is not a meal.

Yes, the clichés are true, French people love bread, especially baguettes. Bread is like the soul of the diner.

It’s not the end of the world if you don’t serve bread but wouldn’t you be disappointed if you had no gravy to put on your mashed potatoes or stuffing with your turkey? It’s kind of like that.

bread is practically the soul of a French diner. Without it something would be missing

10. Serving a bunch of ice in a glass of water

Both Canadians and American like to fill their glasses up with ice and that fascinates French people.

In France, unless it’s extremely hot outside, people drink room temperature water or chilled water. End of story.

French people don't get why North Americans like to put ice cubes in their water.

11. Serving cranberry sauce

Turkey and cranberry sauce go hand in hand like jam and bread yet in French cuisine there is no such connection between turkey and cranberry. Go ahead and give a French person this combo and watch their eyes light up in delight or squint at its unexpected tanginess.

Cranberry sauc is not a normal accompaniment to turkey in France

Check out thee recipe for homemade cranberry sauce over at Theprairiehomestead.com

12. Serving Corn

If you want to see something extraordinary, serve some corn on the cob to your French guests. They won’t be sure what to do. Pick it up with their hands? Cut the kernels off with their knife and fork? It’s too big to ignore and leave to the side!

Corn is animal food, not people food as far as the French are concerned. It’s rarely sold fresh in French grocery stores, and when you do find it, it’s usually in a set of two on a styrofoam wrapped in cellophane plastic.

French people generally don't eat corn, ever

13. Serving a big mug of coffee instead of a small espresso

After the appetizer, the main course, the cheese, the salad and dessert, it’s customary to drink a coffee. Not a big American size coffee, an espresso coffee is the norm in France.Everyday coffee in France is an espresso

14. Arriving on time or early to a diner

In true North American fashion, I like to show up on time or early when invited to someone’s house for dinner. Not much, maybe just 5 or 10 minutes early.

In France, however, a French person will usually be late. There is even a running joke amongst my French and expat friends about how the French are always late.

There is something called  “le quart d’heure de politesse”, the 15-minute rule of politeness.  By arriving about 15 minutes late, you allow your host the time they need to do a little tweaking to finish up their last minute preparations.

It’s not that it’s rude to show up early, it’s just more polite to show up a little late. I love this rule.arriving late is a sign of politeness in France

15. Putting your hands on your lap at the dinner table

Practically every culture tells you it’s rude to put your elbows on the table but what about your hands?

Take a look around a restaurant in the US, and Canada, and you might notice people eating with a utensil in one hand while the other hand lays on their lap.

Rude?

I didn’t think so, but in France and a few other European countries, it is considered good manners to keep both hands visible above the table at all times during the meal. Fork in your left hand and knife in your right.hands-on-the-table at all times, it's considered polite in France

16. Hugging everyone instead of cheek kissing

How do you greet your dinner guests? Most likely you hug them.

In France, people greet each other with cheek kisses just like in the movies— not with big ole bear hugs.

It only took me a couple of years to figure it out, but I finally learned all the rules to French cheek kissing which you can read about here

The fine art of greeting a French person with a cheek kiss (La bise)

How to faire la bise step by step

17. Football and Thanksgiving

My husband and I were once invited to a friend’s house in Toulon to enjoy Paella followed by watching a French rugby match. I believe it was Marseille playing against Spain. Thanksgiving football thanksgiving postcard

I was excited at the prospect of participating in this French gathering even if it was to watch sports. (I’m not a big sports fan).

During the match, I had no idea what was going on even though it was fun yelling and screaming at the TV. Then the novelty of it wore off and I got bored.

I imagine that’s how a French person might feel if invited to a Thanksgiving dinner followed by watching American or Canadian football.

Come to think of it, I get bored of watching football too.

18. Serving all the courses at once and overloading your plate

I’m not sure how you are accustomed to serving Thanksgiving meals but in our house, all the dishes got brought out at once, with the exception of perhaps dessert?

That’s not the case in France. Courses come out in waves. First, the appetizers and entree, pause then the cheese and salad, pause, then dessert. There’s no chance to overload the plate. It would be rude to do so anyway.

Maybe that’s why French people aren’t a nation of obese people? 

French people don't serve food all at once and load their plate

About the Author

Annie André Is a half Thai, half French Canadian/American freelance writer, digital marketer and author of THE LIVE IN FRANCE GUIDE: an expat travel and lifestyle blog featuring destination guides, inspiration, travel tips, personal advice and anecdotes on working, living and playing in France. ( Equal parts weird, wacky and wonderful).

Comments are closed