Thanksgiving in France

This post is a bit delayed, but I wanted to post anyway, just because it was such a memorable evening. Sifting through photos this week reminded me and made me laugh. (Click photos to enlarge)

No, Thanksgiving is not a French holiday (obviously), but I did celebrate this historical American holiday in November with my French family and friends. I invited my French guests for a true American Thanksgiving feast. They loved it. First, my very French brother-in-law showed up wearing a red, white and blue striped American flag button-shirt. His daughter had found a flag skirt somewhere, which she coupled with black sequined ballet shoes. Her school friend wore a flag T-shirt. American Flag Shirt Then the rest of the guests arrived–some good friends. The ladies were wearing matching red cowboy hats decorated with red glitter stars. Everyone was ready for the American dinner party. ThanksgivingHats Just for fun, I had decorated the table and dining room in all of the flag paraphernalia I own, including some things I had picked up at the dollar store during my last visit to the States, just for such an occasion. On the menu: baked turkey breast (I couldn’t find a whole turkey), butternut squash soup, greenbean casserole, rice and cornbread dressing (made with chicken and it’s stock), cranberry-orange relish, sweet potato casserole, cinnamon applesauce, spiced fruit bread and chocolate covered gingerbread. The favorite was definitely the sweet potato casserole (Paul Dean recipe. I didn’t bother trying to explain Paula Dean). This was quite a surprise to me, because the French don’t usually eat what they call sugar-salty. Sugar is NEVER eaten before the meal and the cheese. By the way, I did not serve cheese after the meal… and no one complained! Several guests asked for the sweet potato casserole recipe and someone even asked for the dressing recipe. Oh my! I have arrived! I’ve never been asked for a recipe in the three years I’ve lived here. I even played classic Christmas music in the background–rather boring compared to the live guitars and Spanish and French music we usually enjoy on our dinner occasions. It was a nice evening, and for the first time since I’ve lived in France, it felt like Thanksgiving. Even if it was a bit bizarre. ThanksgivingTable  

Salmon Tiramisu

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Salmon Tiramasu, an entre at the Piazza des Thermes, a restaurant built in the ancient ruins of the Baths of Constantine in Arles.

Salmon Tiramisu, an entre at the Piazza des Thermes, a restaurant built in the ancient ruins of the Baths of Constantine in Arles.

When I posted a photo of Salmon Tiramisu, or tiramisu au saumon, to Facebook, I received some interesting comments from my American friends. They simply could not imagine eating this as an entre with salmon.

First of all, salmon tiramisu is heavenly. And there’s nothing sweet and sugary about it. The French don’t eat sugar before a meal (as in never; it’s a sacrilege). They eat something salty, and salmon tiramisu satisfies that taste.

The Italian dessert tiramisu is made with mascarpone cheese, egg yolks and sugar. The cake-like ladyfingers layer are dipped coffee.

Salmon tiramisu is also made with mascarpone cheese and egg yolks, but rather than adding sugar, salt is added.

Tiramisu literally means “pick me up” in Italian and has the idea of something that makes you happy. There are several legends floating around about the origin of the Italian dessert. One refers to Venetian women who ate the dessert to give them energy for a long night of lovemaking.

Salmon tiramisu definitely makes me happy. It’s my new favorite entre.

Recipe for Salmon Tiramisu:
250g mascarpone cheese
3 eggs
4 slices smoked salmon
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped chives
4 sprigs chives
salt
pepper
lemon
almonds, slivered

Chop salmon into small pieces, about 1/2 inch thin. Lightly saute in olive oil. Add salt and pepper, and let it cool. Separate the yolks from the egg whites. Beat the egg yolks and add to mascarpone with a little salt and pepper and chives. Beat and fold in the egg whites. Place cooled salmon pieces in the bottom of a glass dessert dish. Drizzle a little lemon juice. Top with mascarpone mixture. Garnish with slivered almonds and a few sprigs of chives. Refrigerate for 12 hours. Serve cold.

Alternatively, you could use the same recipe with blinis. Toast blinis and spread mascarpone mixture on top. Garnish with smoked salmon and chives. Makes a great appetizer.

In France Health Care is a Right

There’s a very significant aspect of living in another culture: you learn, you grow, your perspectives change. You see some things in a different light because you have new experiences.
As you probably know, France supports a socialist government. Socialism is a term feared by some Americans and championed by others, at least it’s ideology. But I’ve come to understand that while (like Americans) not all French people support the socialist ideology, they mostly share in common the philosophy that health care is a basic human right. While they debate other issues of socialism, health care does not seem to be one of them. They believe every person deserves quality health care. Yes, I said quality. An American friend posted this (I only reprint a portion of the entire post here) after the U.S. elections:
“Everyone might have Health Care in the future, but the question is will it be quality care and how long will the lines be to receive it! … Time to get on our knees cause no human can get us out of this mess but they sure can make a contribution to making it worse. May you all be Blessed with good health or with the patience to persevere if you don’t……In time, we will begin to understand the “Hurry up and Wait Theory” that our fine men and women in the Armed Forces have learned to understand… How many are going to want to be doctors if their jobs go from taking the time to make the correct diagnosis to one that feels like/ resembles pushing cattle through a gate.”

I once shared this fear about socialized health care. And if not governed properly, this could happen. But I live now in a country that practices socialized health care, and I have been relieved and pleasantly surprised by my experiences here. I’ve never waited more than 15 minutes to see a doctor, and that’s with no appointment. I just show up at the waiting room and wait my turn. And when I see the doctor, he’s very thorough, kind, and helpful. In fact, I have learned more about my particular health conditions since living here because the doctors are so well-informed and have taken the time to explain things to me. I’ve found a doctor I prefer because he speaks some English and wants to learn to speak better, so he’s asked me to speak English with him. In short, I don’t feel like cattle being pushed through a gate. It costs me 23€ for a visit (about $30 US), and that’s with no rights as a French resident or citizen. For French residents, it’s reimbursed.

The pharmacists are equally helpful. You can’t just grab over-the-counter meds from the counter in France. You have to go to a pharmacy (and there is one on nearly every corner), and ask the pharmacist. You either tell them what you need, or you can explain your symptoms and they go behind the counter and take what you need. Same for prescription and non-prescription drugs–all are behind the counter. Of course, for prescription drugs you need a prescription from the doctor. Again, I pay full price for my meds. People here are often shocked by that, because they see health care, especially for long-term health issues, as a right. For three medications I pay 16€ per month. The last time I was in the States, and because I no longer have insurance there, I bought those same medications for $100. With a French residence card (I’m working on paperwork for this) I would pay nothing in France. There’s one pharmacy that’s particularly busy because it’s in a mall. I’ve waited in line there before (not more than 15 minutes), but I usually avoid that one. At all other pharmacies I’ve visited, there are several–sometimes as many as 5-7 persons–working and I don’t wait at all.

For over-the-counter meds, I’ve taken something for headache, stomach upset, and allergies. I do not believe I am exaggerating, because my son, who has severe allergies here, has said the same: the quality of the medications is excellent. The allergy medication he takes here starts to work almost immediately, and he continues to be surprised by this. I can say the same. Several of the meds are dissolved in water, and they work quickly and well. I’ve never had these kinds of meds in the States. I’m very pleased with such quick relief from a migraine or upset stomach, as you can imagine.

I’ve had less minor illness since I’ve lived here. In France people eat healthier, they walk more, and in general, are in better shape and thinner (I’m still working on the “thinner” part). There are strict laws about what can be added to foods. Chemicals and preservatives are less common; therefore, the foods are healthier. The French eat lots of meat and vegetables, but the meats have more of a wild taste due to the fact that laws do not allow farmers to sell meats from heavily vaccinated and chemically injected animals. It’s so easy to find “fresh” fruits and vegetables here. The French eat LOTS of bread, but they buy it everyday, fresh. It doesn’t last more than a day or two because it is not loaded with preservatives.

I was surprised by a comment from a French radiologist the last time I had bloodwork to regulate my thyroid medications. He asked if I was American, and I responded, yes. He said thyroid conditions in France are rare, but very common among Americans due to the preservatives in foods. I’ve never heard this before, but some research indicated that he was probably correct. And by the way, I walked into a lab, had bloodwork done with no waiting, and picked up the results before 2 p.m. the next day.

I’ve been bitten by a dog and a spider since living here. The dog is a vicious beast owned by an equally non-personable neighbor. The spider was one of the many that live in our old stone home and was obviously hungry one night. Both bites became infected. In both cases I showed up at the doctor’s office with no appointment (night hours and weekends are common), and received in one case an antibiotic and in the other a topical cream. No further issues. In the case of the dog bite, the doctor informed me that by law I could request the dog owner to take the dog to the vet TWICE and send me written verification that the dog was without disease. I did this and received two letters within the next couple of weeks from the vet. Since the spider was among my own inhabitants, I had no recourse.

For the French, “Sécurité Sociale,” which refers to their medical benefits, covers most care. In some cases they do pay 70%, but many French people have supplemental health care insurance (privately, not through an employer), that covers the remaining 30%. In this case, the French pay nothing for care. And the premiums for this supplemental insurance are very low–about 20€ per month–depending on the situation and needs.

And finally, one of the most impressive aspects of French health care: for persons with terminal, long-term, or serious illness, security social covers 100% and these critical patients receive priority, highest quality care. In other words, the French believe in taking the best care of those who really need it. I have a daughter with Type 1 diabetes. She lives in the States and pays about $100/month for diabetic supplies, and that’s WITH great health insurance. In France she would pay 0€.

My aim is not to attempt to convince anyone to change their political views. I simply want to provide another perspective, and a true experience. So often our views and ideas are based on our narrow experiences, and we fear and reject that which we don’t understand. Here’s an excellent article describing the French health care system accurately: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/9994.php

Next time, I’ll depart from the serious and entice you with photos from my trip on the French Riviera.

National Holiday?

Yesterday was Halloween in France, but that’s not the national holiday that had everyone NOT working. Today is All Saints Day (which is, of course, where Halloween has it’s origin). Can you believe All Saints Day is a national holiday? You can add this one to your international holiday list. And it’s big–festivals everywhere. In the South, any holiday means bulls run in the street (Abrivado). I wonder if they run the bulls at Christmas, too?

Oh, wait. Did I forget to mention that no one told me that today is a national holiday?

People stopping by unexpectedly is normal. (Remind you of living in the South U.S., Laura?), but I wasn’t expecting a steady stream of people yesterday. And in France, when people come to your home, you don’t just offer a coke or cup of coffee. No, you provide an aperitif, which includes a drink and a salty snack. And it seems they have a habit of showing up (unexpectedly) at mealtimes, or they stay so long it runs into mealtimes, and then you feed them. And if you read my blog, you’ll learn that a French meal is always at least 5 courses. I’m not exaggerating. When I”m alone during the day, I can eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but this is not acceptable, at least in our house, at other times. Normally, even “quick” meals consist of: aperitif, entre, plate, fromage (cheese), and dessert. (See previous blog on French food.) I’m convinced there is no such thing as a quick meal in France, unless you go to McDonalds or the French equivalent of McDonalds: Quik. Yes, that’s what it’s called–Quik.

And so, let me conclude by saying that I had a minor melt-down yesterday evening. An unexpected holiday is nothing to have a melt-down over. It was the proverbial straw…. After several weeks (let’s say months) of the stress of getting my residency documents, getting attacked by a dog (I”m still taking antibiotics for that one), trying to open a French banque account and buy a cell phone, and numerous other daily life stresses of being a “foreigner,” I just lost it. I mean, why didn’t someone do the small courtesy of telling the American it’s a holiday in France? You would think my husband would have thought to mention it? (And yes, Marion, French husbands are no different than American husbands.)

I’ve discovered that one of the greatest stresses of living abroad, for me, is that feeling of “lostness,” never knowing what comes next.

Next year I’ll be expecting All Saints Day.