November 28, 2014

Radio Week Part 2: Party Like it's 1621

Thanksgiving in France is more commonly referred to as "Thursday." No lining up at Wal-Mart, no turkey that hasn't defrosted, no hectic travel, no last-minute runs to the store for extra butter, no teeth-gnashing over the seating chart, no worrying about who was going to be drunkest.

For this Yankee, it seemed a good opportunity to bring a little Americana to the masses here in Burgundy, so I wrote to the local radio station offering to appear in studio to discuss this most American of holidays.

To my mild amazement, they accepted, and I found myself at ten of six in the evening in the colorful lobby of France Bleu Bourgogne in the center of Dijon. It was a beehive of activity as producers and on-air talent were gathered around a large table dotted with laptops, busily preparing the next half-hour's news update or the next day's morning show.

I was going to appear during a segment of the evening drive time called "La Bouffe Ensemble," translated roughly as "Food Together." The feed was piped into the lobby, and I could hear the hosts (a woman, Florence, and a man, Stéphane) teasing my appearance, talking about turkey and saying thanks.  

Florence came out to greet me and I realized I needn't have worried about the dress code. We were firmly in "radioworld," and casual attire ruled the roost. Stéphane, to my horror and repulsion, was rocking a New York Yankees hat, a t-shirt, and jeans. He talked faster than a hummingbird's wings. We did a super quick briefing (what questions they might ask, where I should sit, how do you pronounce your last name?, wave to the man behind the glass, you don't need headphones, talk into the mic, etc.), and bam! we were live on the air. After some pleasantries (and an extremely nice compliment from Florence on my French), I gave a quick rundown of the history of Thanksgiving: the first repast in Plymouth in 1621, Lincoln's Proclamation of 1863, and the 1941 law that established Thanksgiving as an annual national holiday on the fourth Thursday of November. I was done in two minutes. The hosts then called a French woman and asked her what she was having for dinner (she didn't know; her 23-year old son was preparing it for her; it would be a surprise), and then they played "Born in the USA" for the guest, a nice touch.

When the song ended, we were back live and I gave a rundown of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner: turkey (46 million of 'em on tables across America), stuffing (when I said that some people liked to put oysters in their stuffing, Stéphane interjected, his face going white with disgust, and asked if he had understood me correctly. Clearly, his French palate was more that a little troubled by the idea of oysters inside stuffing inside turkey), cranberry sauce, gravy, mashed potatoes, peas, green beans, sweet potatoes, and apple, pecan, or pumpkin pie. While I tried to concentrate (it is a wild experience being on live radio  in a foreign language), I couldn't help being a little distracted by my hosts. Their eyes were constantly darting to the clock, checking the time. Stéphane looked at his phone a lot. Both of them would sporadically raise a hand or point to the producer behind the glass, the cue for a sound effect or some other trick of the radio trade. The five minute segment went by in a flash, and, after nice handshakes, some assurances that it had been "super," an offer to be a local events reporter in Arnay le Duc for the station (on a volunteer basis, of course), and a free pen, I was out the door.

After I left the station, I realized that I had forgotten to do the one thing I had been preparing for the whole day. On the streets of Dijon, people were headed home after work, perhaps thinking ahead to their meal at home that evening (blanquette de veau? duck breast with potatoes au gratin? lentil soup studded with cubes of pork? cod filet on a bed of creamed spinach?), all oblivious to the American in their midst. 

It felt, for a minute, very far away from home. While it is true that Thanksgiving in France does not have any of the unpleasant aspects of the holiday, it also lacks football, stuffing, crisp skin, the Snoopy float, the thick smell of roasting flesh, laughter, and, most of all, family.

Contemplating the distance between Burgundy and the Vermont table where my family was congregating, I realized with shame that I had forgotten my most important line for my cross-Atlantic listeners during my radio appearance: "Hi, Mom and Dad. Happy Thanksgiving. I love you and I miss you."

No comments:

Post a Comment