Surviving the Holidays Abroad


A few years ago, I was reading through a French translation of Twilight — a highly academic endeavor — when I came across the term “Thanksgiving,” accompanied by an asterisk and an explanation below. How cute, I thought, that French adolescents didn’t know about this wondrous American holiday of gratitude and over-indulgence.

Fast-forward to the holiday season, as I frantically searched the French supermarket shelves for pumpkin pie (no luck), perused endlessly for a decent Halloween party, and wandered the streets looking for a single, solitary inflatable Santa lawn decoration.


Facing the holidays abroad can be disorienting for Americans in France; the traditions are hard-found or non-existent, and the distance between family and friends seems as insurmountable as the original Mayflower expedition. But with a little planning and some fellow expats, you can make these holidays the best ones yet.

Attend a Thanksgiving Dinner

Without Aunt Susie’s famous pie or mom’s stuffing, you might be tempted to just skip the whole tradition — don’t. In Paris, there are plenty authentic options for prix fixe Thanksgivings at Breakfast in America, Joe Allen, Hotel Edouard 7 and Verjus.

Remember to book early; the early bird gets the turkey.

Feeling ambitious? Cook

You may not find pyramids of canned pumpkin at the local Carrefour, but fear not. Head to Thanksgiving, a grocer dedicated to stocking much-beloved American food and baking supplies.

During the holiday time, they sell hard-to-find American products like stuffing mix, cranberry sauce, gravy cans, and more. You can also check out The Real McCoy, a deli and grocery, that sells holiday necessities alongside all manner of Hersheys.

Taking the time to prepare traditional dishes is a quick cure for homesickness. Gathering new-found friends and holiday “orphans” for Friendsgiving will mark a new tradition.

Host Movie Nights

Kick off the season with a night of Halloween thrillers. Make sure to keep fun-size Twixs and Snickers nearby to binge on between screams. Cozy up with your friends over A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. And if ye olde French carols, Nativity-themed displays and Christmas Markets aren’t ringing your jingle bells, simply Netflix and chill. It’s a Wonderful Life, Love Actually, Home Alone and The Santa Clause are perennial classics, to bring you the real deal cheese-whizz flavor of a down home Christmas.

Don’t Forget Secret Santa

There’s nothing sadder than waking up in your charming Paris studio… alone… on Christmas morning. Christmas is a time for family. Without your nearest and dearest to dine with and fight, there’s no holiday cheer, no spirit and, worst of all, no presents. Not even disappointing cheap novelty ones.

Address this tout suite by arranging a gift exchange with your French and American friend family. You can all bond over the terrible items given and received at a reveal party for your Père Noël Secret.

Stay in touch, but don’t stay obsessed

Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat are the modern day three kings, sharing messages of joy to the world. But scrolling through endless pictures of happy, festive, and very far away friends and family can lead to serious FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). While it’s great to stay in touch, it’s toxic to obsess about how life at home goes on without you.

If you find yourself in despair over missed moments, take a break from screen-staring. Go do something special with your friends in France, like a boat ride on the Seine, or a pain au chocolat boulangerie-crawl. You’ll feel better living it up abroad.

…And you’ll end up with good grammable ammo, to make your friends back home feel the FOMO.

Make a Local Friend

The hardest part of the holidays is combatting the loneliness. Combat this by being aggressively not-lonely. Your French friends will enjoy learning about your traditions. They will return the favor by showing you some of theirs. Have you ever spent a cold winter’s night learning how to make Bûche de Noël and foie gras?

It’s cross-cultural exchange at its finest.