EXPAT FOODIE AND THANKSGIVING ABUNDANCE

by missfootloose on November 28, 2009 · 14 comments

in Culture and Customs, Expat foodie, Expat life, Food, shopping, USA

My stories here on this blog usually deal with one of my tiny (mis)adventures living the expat life in exotic climes, but this time I have no story as such, but will offer instead a brief exposition of a fabulous cultural event in America, where I spent many years as an expat. The cultural event I am referring to is called Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is a big November holiday in the United States, the fourth Thursday of the month. People travel from far and wide to be with their beloved families for the long weekend. They express their gratitude for the blessings in their lives before chowing down a big turkey meal in the middle of the afternoon. At least that is the tradition. The stereotype is that the women spend most of the day toiling in the kitchen and the men lounge around watching a football game on TV and drinking beer. Tradition is a wonderful thing, but this girl-guy thing is a-changing.

My American readers know all this, of course, but if you’re of another persuasion, you might not and therefore find this ramble educational. I learned all about Thanksgiving myself when I first came to the United States. On the history front I learned it was a holiday that commemorates the meal the Pilgrims, aka Puritans, shared in 1621 with the Wampanoag Indians to celebrate the harvest, and the fact that the Puritans had survived their first brutal winter after arriving on the North American continent the year before.

On the food front I eventually learned how to stuff and roast a turkey so people would eat it. And my apple pie is now internationally famous.

One Thanksgiving day while I lived in the US with husband and brood, my mother visited from Holland. She saw me labor over preparing the turkey for the oven and shook her head at me in consternation. “Why don’t you just get a cut-up turkey?” she asked. “You know, it would be so much easier to roast it that way.”

Clearly, she did not get it. In 1621 the Pilgrims did not buy their turkey neatly cut up from the supermarket; they went out and hunted the wild ones and shot them dead with their own hands and guns. So now, almost four centuries later, we must have whole birds; that’s the tradition. (But if you don’t care about tradition, you can get a gargantuan turkey breast and roast that. Or a goose. Or some tofu substance, but really you should be ashamed of yourself. It’s unAmerican.)

Many turkey crises happen all over the country on Thanksgiving day and the turkey emergency help lines are busy taking phone calls from countless panicky cooks. Apparently some people do not realize it takes more than an hour to defrost a 18 pound (8 kilo) frozen turkey, or that if you leave the bird in the oven for ten hours on high heat it is petrified and you can shoot it off in a canon.

The recipes for stuffed roast turkey are many and often sacred, passed on from mother to daughter. The problem is that so many daughters these days only know how to push the buttons on microwave ovens to heat a frozen factory meal and have no clue how to go about messing with a big wet slippery raw fowl. You cannot blame them because they are teachers and doctors and pole dancers and we all know you cannot do or know everything. Fortunately, there’s often a mother or mother-in-law who’ll come to the rescue.

So, if you’re lucky, on Thanksgiving Day you’re sitting at a table graced by a perfectly roasted specimen. This big bird is accompanied by many rich, calorie-laden side dishes, including the much maligned souped-up green bean casserole and the syruped-up sweet potato concoction crowned with (I kid you not) marshmallows. Everybody gorges themselves most shamelessly. It’s a splendid eat fest, trust me.

I am, at the moment of this writing, living again in the US, and I know you can’t wait to hear what I’ve counted as my blessings this Thanksgiving Day. But really now, do you want to sit here for another hour and read all about it? I think not. Let me just head straight for the old trusty cliche and fancy it up for the occasion: My champagne flute bubbleth over.

You’d think, wouldn’t you, that once dinner is consumed (including apple pie, pumpkin pie, etc) and the dishes are washed, the holiday is over. But no, there’s more! There’s Black Friday!

That’s when the the real fun starts: You get up at 2 or 3 in the morning for the Running of the Sales. You drive your car in the dark of night to the shops. You line up at the doors of big shopping emporiums and wait for them to open the doors at 4 am so you can rush in and grab cool merchandise you’re dying to have and can’t live without. And, also, to start your Christmas shopping. Some stores open at 12 midnight, so many people don’t go to bed at all.

It’s true that yesterday, Thanksgiving, you were very grateful for all your abundance, but you also know that you really don’t have enough stuff yet for Total Happiness. So, this being the day of THE BIGGEST SALES OF THE YEAR IN THE USA !! you don’t want anybody to beat you to the Great Deals waiting inside! You may get trampled in the stampede, but the risk is worth it!

Well, if you really think so, I’m not with you. I’m not really with you anywhere near those doors. I’m in bed, peacefully digesting. But that’s just me. I’m not much of a consumer.

Okay, so I keep saying “you” but I don’t really mean YOU over there in Argentina or Zambia or Sweden because you may never even have set foot in the United States and have no plans to do so ever. I mean the universal, generic “you.” I should have been more proper and used the pronoun “one.” Like this: One gets up at an ungodly hour in the morning to do a pushing-and- shoving routine so one can get some cheap stuff one has been craving to possess before others lay their greedy paws on it.

Rest assured that much information is available to assist you in your quest to find what you want: TV commercials, flyers and catalogs in the mailbox and Internet sites posting regular updates on where the best doorbuster deals are to be found. All this to make sure you know at what door you want to park yourself at the wee hours of the morning and to create a festive mass hysteria to help you get in the mood for the next celebration: Christmas.

As I said, I’m not much of a consumer. This is one of the tragedies of living the expat life in countries without big supermarkets and shopping malls: You suffer and learn to do without, and once you’ve adjusted to being deprived, it gets really hard not to be overwhelmed when you look at a selection of seventeen colors or brands of an item and need to choose only one out of that abundance. It’s less stressful not to choose at all and go home and brew yourself a restorative pot of chamomile tea, put your feet up and read a good book. But I digress.

The Friday after Thanksgiving is called, as I mentioned, Black Friday. Sounds a bit sinister to me, but it’s called black because it’s the day the merchants hope to make enough money to get them out of the red and into the black for the year. In bookkeeping terms red means debt, black means not in debt. I’m telling you this because these colors are not universally used. In Italy they prefer a different financial color scheme but I can’t remember which one and I’m too lazy to look it up. Besides I’m sure you don’t care.

Anyway, one way or another, this American holiday is about the abundance of everything, about being grateful for everything, eating everything, buying everything and about sharing your toys with the kids who have nothing.

Here’s where I share mine:

THE HEIFER PROJECT (food)

HABITAT FOR HUMANITY (housing)

NOTHING BUT NETS (health)

* * *

Do any of you have a foreign perspective of the American Thanksgiving holiday? A fun experience? A turkey disaster? Entertain me!

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Heather November 28, 2009 at 8:16 am

I don’t think I’ll ever understand getting up at 2 or 3 in the morning to go shopping…

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Elizabeth Bradley November 30, 2009 at 12:40 am

No shopping for us on Friday, we had a leftover party and played cards and enjoyed the family!

That apple pie looks award-winning-amazing!

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Mireille December 1, 2009 at 6:08 am

I was not one of those on Black Friday going shopping that early… I guess when you don’t grow up into that ‘culture’ it is harder to adapt to such crazyness…

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Miss Footloose December 2, 2009 at 7:17 pm

Everybody: To be fair: Not all Americans go for this shopping frenzy!

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GutsyWriter December 3, 2009 at 4:21 am

Although I’ve lived in California since 1983, except for one year in Belize, I honestly did not know what “black Friday” was until this year. A journalist I follow on Facebook mentioned it, and I asked what it was.
I hate the commercialism of all holidays, including Mother’s Day. Let me spend my money when I want to, not when I’m told to.

Anyway, enough venting, I had steak on Thanksgiving with my hubby and two of my sons. I cooked my turkey the day after, and it felt great to be different. Vive la liberte!

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LadyFi December 3, 2009 at 7:27 am

I’m British and we don’t have Thanksgiving – although it sounds very much like our Christmas food (if you’re a meat-eater, that is..)

As for getting up at 2 am to rush to the sales – sounds awful. I really do believe that we should be trying to consume less in this day and age – and not more.

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Hilary December 3, 2009 at 11:00 am

Thanksgiving is my absolute favorite holiday of the year! Unfortunately, there’s not many folks here in Russia to celebrate it with. At home, our family celebrates it with the big meal at 1pm, a couple of hours of digestion/football, a footrace at the local school’s track (just to see if the little cousins’ legs have gotten long enough to beat the lazy old ones), leftovers, then a massive game of Monopoly, which often lasts until the wee hours. No Black Friday madness though, the money saved isn’t worth the hassle of the crowds.

Anyway, our turkey fiasco is as such: every year my grandmother is the turkey queen (aunts, uncles, and cousins handle the side dishes). She wakes up at about 4am to put the turkey in and then goes back to bed to get some shut-eye. About 3 years ago, she didn’t notice that the pan that catches the basting fluid was askew. So all the drippings from the turkey went right onto the heating element, causing massive amounts of smoke – which no one noticed because they were peacefully sleeping. By about 6am the whole first floor of the house was filled with smoke and the fire alarms were bleating, so everyone rushed in to see what was going on, including the fire department, with sirens blaring! (Grandma’s got one of those security systems that notifies them automatically.) No turkey THAT year.

Needless to say, Grandma feels chagrin over this to this day, though no one teases her about it lest she withdraw her (normally perfect) turkey roasting technique.

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Turquoise Diaries December 3, 2009 at 12:10 pm

I have to admit that this is a very informative and fun post for us – non Americans…

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Mary Witzl December 3, 2009 at 7:44 pm

I am an American who grew up in a pretty-much vegetarian household. To my great embarrassment (as a teenager who longed to be like everyone else), we really did have veg-a-turkey at Thanksgiving. It was awful. And like Elizabeth, our family NEVER went shopping the Friday after Thanksgiving. We were cheapskates who did not Follow Trends. (We were always amazed to meet other vegetarians. We were thrilled there were others who’d had the same idea.)

I’ve always felt that the very best Thanksgiving we could have would involve preparing a meal exactly like our Pilgrim mothers & fathers had to do, complete with starting our own fire, killing our own (stringy) turkeys, and making pumpkin pies from scratch. This would probably result in an average annual weight loss — not a bad thing at all.

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mary and Sean December 4, 2009 at 7:49 am

You make a good point about Black Friday, but we must not forget the other crazy unofficial holiday that is Boxing Day in some countries or just Dec 26, the day after Xmas in the US.

In many ways, this day is more absurd than Black Friday. Why is it that people shop all Dec long and then take one day off for Xmas, and then are right back out the very next day after?

Is it the half-price wrapping paper or a deeper evil consumer itch? I’ll never get it.

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planetnomad December 4, 2009 at 3:44 pm

I grew up (mostly) in America and we NEVER EVER EVER did Black Friday. It’s just wrong. It actually makes me really sad, as I think of the mega corps getting rich, and the poor working people having to open the stores at 3 a.m. Sigh.

Your apple pie looks terrif! Thanks for leaving a comment chez moi, which enabled me to find you.

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Miss Footloose December 5, 2009 at 4:30 am

@ Helen Ginger, a Texan perspective may not be foreign enough, even if it’s a separate country — almost. Yes, the apple pie is mine. It tasted really good too!

@ GutsyWriter, one year in Belize is plenty to recognize the excesses of life in western countries. I’m finding myself very intolerant and judgmental about it, not very Zen of me.

@ LadyFi, Thanksgiving turkey dinner is pretty much the same here as a traditional Christmas turkey dinner, which is much the same as a British Christmas dinner. Americans though are not too high on mince pie and plum pudding, going more for apple pie or pumpkin pie. Traditionally speaking. Magazines and food shows on TV offer many fancy gourmet variations and alternatives.

@ Hilary, so you are in Russia. Hope they have a nice Christmas celebration there, but maybe in January, orthodox? I loved you Grandma story! Part of the family history now. Thank you for sharing!

@ Mary Witzl, vegetarian just isn’t the same, I’m sure. And about Black Friday, there are of course many sane Americans who do not take part in this craziness!

@ Mary and Sean, craziness has no nationality, I’m sure. The day after Christmas in America is traditionally a very busy day in the shops: People changing or returning for money the presents they received on Christmas day. Awful! (And to buy the paper and other decorations at half-price for next year. I think it’s a sport!

@ Planetnomad, yes, it is sad to watch all that manic shopping on TV. I don’t venture out of the house on those those crazy days. I’m not much of a shopper at all.

Everybody, thanks for your input. Apparently none of you is a shopaholic! There is hope!

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