Where expats prowl for Stove Top, Jell-O

A French grocer caters to Americans longing for traditional Thanksgiving fare.

For some Americans living abroad, Thanksgiving, with its associations of family gatherings, can be a time of homesickness. For others, it's an opportunity to share their traditions. If, that is, you can find the makings and overcome the occasional cultural mishap.

Compared with some of the Thanksgivings she has celebrated abroad, this year was a breeze for Karen Limmroth. A stranger in a strange land, she once understood her French butcher to mean he would deliver her turkey cooked when he said he would "prepare" it for her.

"All he meant was he would take the innards out and truss it," Ms. Limmroth recalls. "All our guests were at table and we were cooking the turkey with a blowtorch and carving off slices as they were ready."

Yesterday, by contrast, the longtime expatriate ate with friends who took care of the turkey. She was "only on pie duty," as she put it.

Which is why she was clutching a bottle of Karo corn syrup earlier this week at the checkout counter of "Thanksgiving," the main reason why doing the holiday right in Paris is so easy, even though it's on the wrong side of the Atlantic. The aptly named grocery store, tucked in a quiet sidestreet in the heart of one of the oldest parts of Paris, is a cornucopia of Americana with all the trimmings.

From Oreos to Jell-O, nachos to canned cream-of-mushroom soup, the shop caters to American tastes that ordinary French epiciers ignore. And this week it saved the day for many a homesick family.

Cans of pumpkin puree lined the shelves, bags of pecan nuts stood by the cash register, bags of fresh cranberries filled the refrigerated section, and crates upon crates of sweet potatoes were stacked everywhere.

The sweet potatoes came from Israel, "but they are the same variety as grown in Louisiana," store owner Frederic Bluysen is quick to explain, not the African variety found in French markets. "I sell about a ton for Thanksgiving."

Mr. Bluysen was also selling turkeys (at $4.25 a pound), pop-up timers to go with them, Stove Top stuffing mix, and ready-made cranberry jelly. "We do about 50 percent more business this month than in other months," he says.

Americans were not the only ones to enjoy all this fare. "The French have really gotten into Thanksgiving," says Ms. Limmroth, a freelance TV producer. "My French friends get quite miffed if they are not invited to a Thanksgiving supper."

Mili Hawran, another longtime American in Paris, also worked to share her Thanksgiving this year. "I usually invite a few French friends to let them in on the experience," she says. "Most of them don't understand how important the meal is - until they taste the real thing.

"Before," she adds, "I didn't do Thanksgiving. You couldn't get the stuff, so why bother? Now there's no problem."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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