Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

November 14th was Thanksgiving Day in France. Not having any family here in France, George and I decided to celebrate Turkey Day with 100 of our closest friends. Not having 100 friends, we settled for about 15 friends and 85 strangers.

Thanksgiving is not, of course, a French holiday, but it is not, as some people think, a purely American festival either. Thanksgiving is a relatively big holiday in Canada too, complete with a Canadian Football League doubleheader just like the NFL doubleheader we get every Turkey Day in the US. While American Thanksgiving is always on the last Thursday in November, Canadian Thanksgiving is celebrated on the second Monday of October. French Thanksgiving, being celebrated mostly by American and Canadian expats, is therefore celebrated on November 14th (or any available weekend in between the two holidays from the homeland).

Of the 100 people at the dinner, I would say 35-40 where American, 5 or 6 Canadians, 1 Australian, 1 Venezuelan, a couple Chinese people, and the rest French. The food was mostly traditional American food, with a couple french appetizers mixed in for variety, and of course a huge amount of wine (although we did have wine in a box, which always seemed particularly American to me). The food was really good, particularly the sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie, both of which are hard to find in France.

George and I made deviled eggs, which I had always assumed was a very American food. Turns out deviled eggs are actually from Italy, and are not uncommon in France, so to make mine more American, I added some Heinz Sweet Relish that I bought while I was in Hong Kong a few months ago, since relish does not exist in France.

The conversation was good too. We met a few more couples around our age, a few more Americans, and got to discuss the difficulties of watching American sports live in France with all the technical and time-zone related problems that entails.

All in all a good night. After getting lost trying to walk home, George and I ran into one of the couples from the dinner and ending up going out for more drinks and discussions of Michael Jackson lyrics, finding vegetarian food in Lyon, and other important topics.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

How American is American?

Is this guy American?

The headlines all read "The first American to win the New York Marathon in 27 years" as Californian Meb Keflezighi crossed the finish line 41 seconds before Robert Cheruiyot of Kenya. Americans applauded, newspapers lauded, and sports pundits and internet bloggers assaulted. Mebrahtom Keflezighi?!?! That doesn't sound American. He's just another African import wearing an American jersey--not a real American.

Meb Keflezighi was not born in the US, but he moved to this country 22 years ago when he was 12. He trained at US high schools and ran track at UCLA and has competed for the US in numerous international events. He has never competed for another country, and has lived the majority of his life in the US.

How American does one have to be to be American? The last American to win the New York marathon was actually born in Cuba and moved to the US when he was 2. He was never accused of not being American enough, but that was before we had the internet and the ego-inspiring, argument-inducing power of anonymity.

Our last republican candidate for president, John McCain, wasn't even born in the US, although both of his parents were. And, of course, we all know Barack Obama was born in Kenya.

Our 7th president, Andrew Jackson, was born in the US, but only 2 years after his parents immigrated to America from Ireland. Neither of his siblings were born in the US either.

My wife was born in Hong Kong, but spent less than half of her life there. She is an American citizen, and if anyone asks where she is from, or what her nationality is, she replies American. She never thought much about it until we were recently invited to a Thanksgiving dinner celebration here in Lyon, and the French organizers asked her to cook some traditional American Thanksgiving food. She replied in shock "I'm not really American" and promptly asked me to cook something American for her.

How American are you?

Sunday, November 1, 2009


The Milan metro area is home to over 7 million people, making it the largest metro area in Italy, and one of the largest in all of Europe. Over 6 times the size of my current home of Lyon it certainly feels like a much bigger city, and as the Italian center of finance, business, and fashion it offers many options for entertainment, museums, and most importantly, food!

I didn't know much about Milan before going there other than Leonardo da Vinci spent a lot of time there, and it is home to one of the largest cathedrals in the world--the Duomo di Milano.

George at the Duomo

I like French food, but I love Italian food. Growing up my mom used to cook me lasagna for every birthday, and Italian approximates of spaghetti-ohs and fast food pizza are a staple of every American diet. So as mentioned above, one of the things I was most looking forward to in traveling to Italy was Italian food. We ate nothing but Italian food while in Italy (although we were tempted by a Mexican place) and it was, with only one exception, amazing. One of the best things about Italian food is, unlike French food, the Italians do not think you have to put meat in every meal to make it good. Only one of the meals I ate in Italy had meat in it and you have plenty of vegetarian options at every restaurant.

One area of the culinary arts where the French definitely rule though is desserts. Desserts in Italy are kinda blah, and desserts in France are like heaven (or maybe hell, since they are so yummy and so not healthy :-)

Good advice

Although not super important as a tourist only in town for a few days, another cool thing about Milan is that it is super bike friendly. Bike lanes where everywhere, usually well separated from the main road to protect you from the insane, Evil Knievel-inspired scooter drivers, and like Lyon Milan has a city-wide bike rental system. Since we were only in town for 2 and a half days though, we skipped the bike and just hopped on the slightly confusing, but rather cheap and efficient metro system.

The man that made Dan Brown a millionaire

Leonardo di Vinci was born further south in Florence, but he spent much of his younger years in Milan almost inventing lots of things that almost worked and painting one of his most famous works, the Last Supper. We visited the science museum which housed many of his scientific works, but unfortunately there is a 2 month waiting list to see the Last Supper, so we settled for a post card of it from the pretty cool church next door.

The Last Supper is in the little yellow building next to this church

After getting my da Vinci fix, we headed over to the second coolest thing in Milan, the Duomo di Milano. By far the most impressive church I have ever been to, the building is absolutely amazing and contains an equally amazing art collection. Access to the roof gets you a close up view of the intricate details of the arches and spires, and one of the best views of the city of Milan.

The Catholics sure make some impressive churches

Milan was also a very green city (vegetation wise) with plenty of parks, and trees, bushes, and grass everywhere. One of my biggest complaints about Lyon is the lack of green, and in Milan it seems to be a very important aspect of city planning and judging by the age and height of many of the trees it has been for quite a while.


There are still many new places I want to visit in Europe, but I have to add Milan to my list of places definitely worth another visit. For all the pics we took in Milan, clicca qui