COLUMN: What Thanksgiving is like when you live in the middle of Paris’ gas riots


PAUL on Champs-Élysées was set on fire during a riot in Paris on Nov. 22. Brielle Saggese

This weekend was my first time celebrating Thanksgiving abroad. Of course, I figured it would be different. Grocery stores don’t exactly sell canned yams here.

But what I didn’t expect were the last 48 hours. 

Rather than watching the parade on TV, I watched tear gas clouds from my window. Was that the smell of a roasting turkey in the oven? Nope, just a neighborhood patisserie catching fire.

I’ve truly never been more thankful to be American than during the last two days — trapped in my apartment, right in the middle of a French riot.

You thought your family’s Thanksgiving table discussion was heated. Try waking up the morning after and realizing you can’t cross the street — the traffic lights are burned down.

At our school orientation back in August, they warned us that protests were a little different here than in the United States. For one, they happen much more regularly.

At IU, you might tell the professor you’re late to class because the E-bus was too crowded. Likely, or at least in my experience, your professor won’t care.

Here in Paris, you say you’re late because rioters were digging a hole in the Champs-Élysées cobblestone street. Likely, your professor still won’t care, but only because the same thing happened last week.

Protests, strikes, demonstrations, etc. are kind of considered a working part of the French political process. If you have a problem, first you register it with the police and get back a date and time you can protest.

Next, you gather your union friends, grab some signs and maybe shut down a few métro stops for the day. Finally come the casseurs, or “the breakers.” After the protest is over, they roll through and break store windows, street signs, rental bikes or whatever else is in their way.

So every time a union registers a protest, I get a handy little email from the American Embassy in Paris that tells me what areas to avoid and when. The trouble is, I live in one of the most popular areas for protesting – the Champs-Élysées.

Most days, it’s one of the nicest areas to live in the city with excellent dining, museums, shopping and even the iconic location for the last "Sex and the City" episode. But on days when I get an email from the embassy, it’s the last place you want to live.

Literally, the email each time warns me not to go near the Champs-Élysées. And each time I just want to respond, “OK, but what if I’m already there?”

This weekend I was supposed to go to a Thanksgiving dinner with friends. I was also supposed to bring the sweet potato soufflé. And to do both of these things, I was also supposed to leave my house.

But when I opened my front door to see police firing tear gas, I quickly realized my Thanksgiving was going to be spent watching “House of Cards” with a plate of lentils. Sure, it was supposed to be different, but I assumed I would at least get a plate of sweet potatoes. 

Sunday morning I walked to church and saw the patisserie that was burning a few hours ago was still selling croissants. At least there is something to be thankful for.

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