Monday, November 29, 2010

That Holiday Again

It’s Thanksgiving Day as I write this, and I am away from home. Not simply away from my homeland, but away from my adopted home in Sussex. We’re on holiday this week in Kirkcudbright (pronounced ca-COO-bree if you can believe it) a small town in south-west Scotland. But at least I have Thanksgiving Day off.

Even though we are in a very rural area—-the landlord told us it is like stepping back into the 1950’s, and he was not far wrong—-we managed to cobble together a respectable Thanksgiving dinner. I have a turkey breast, stuffing, roast potatoes, cranberry sauce, several types of veggies and Bisto gravy. All in all a good effort for very little work.

I mention this because it is significant that having a Thanksgiving dinner over here is not as disappointing as it used to be. Back in Sussex, I could have had creamed corn, yams with marshmallows, rolls, French-cut green beans with almond slivers, corn bread, pumpkin pie and even hot chocolate with a dollop of Marshmallow Fluff in it. (The only thing I still cannot find is that really cheap cranberry sauce in a can that tastes like the inside of a drainpipe—-somehow, the posh and very tasty cranberries in port sauce we picked up in Marks and Spencer’s just don’t say, “Happy Thanksgiving” like a slab of tin-infused purple jelly.)

Years ago, when I tried to pull together a Thanksgiving dinner, I always ended up with a hybrid meal containing dubious substitutions that tasted of disappointment, whereas now it’s fairly easy to create a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with all (well, most) of the trimmings. It’s hardly any fun any more. I blame the Americans.

No, really, you can’t swing a ferret without hitting an American. And where Americans go, they bring America with them—-not that anyone should have anything to say about that, it’s exactly what the British did back when it was their turn to rule the world. But it has taken the challenge out a Thanksgiving. Time was, no one of my acquaintance over here had even heard of the concept of creamed corn (nor could they believe it when I explained it to them) but now you can buy it at Sainsbury’s.

So here I am, 3,000 miles away from America and another 300 miles away from my home and I can still have a nice turkey with stuffing and potatoes and cranberry sauce meal. But that’s where the Thanksgiving similarity ends. All that gets you is a Sunday dinner in the middle of the week. And even if you manage to convince a group of family and friends to come share the day, you’ll merely find yourself sitting around a table, having a Sunday dinner in the middle of the week with a bunch of people who just don’t get it.

Thanksgiving is about food, yes, but it is so much deeper than that, and without having grown up with it, a person cannot grasp the tradition, the meaning, the true spirit of Thanksgiving. Christmas over here is a joy, New Year’s is just about the same and Easter is a bonus. But Thanksgiving—-along with the 4th of July—-remains one of the few times during the year when being an expat really hits home.


  1. Mike, we haven't finished experiencing your last holiday yet, and now you add Scotland into the mix. :) It does sound like a lovely trip. Thanks for the pronunciation guide to Kirkcudbright—if you ever discover why they continue to write with consonants over there, please share.

    It makes me feel really squirmy to do this, but you might like my Thanksgiving post: Feel free not to read it—I only offer because you seem a little hungry for some good old-fashioned American Thanksgiving mushiness.

    Hope the novel is going well!

  2. Mike: Being an expat in Canada where Thanksgiving is celebrated in October mine is the opposite of your situation It always takes me by surprise when I hear people ask 'Did you get your turkey for Thanksgiving yet?' In my mind, turkeys are for Christmas. I like the holiday part of it, i.e. the day off work but our watered down Canadian version of the US holiday is a poor comparison. I don't get it.
    My daughter in England had a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with a Canadian friend. They invited lots of people for turkey and all of the trimmings. Which they all referred to as "Christmas Dinner". It just doesn't cross over apparently.

  3. Stacy: Yes, my holidays seem to be stacking up ;) I regret to say this, but I fear the very ambitious "Disconnected" posts will have to fall by the way side, or at least take a back seat for a while.

    And thanks for the link--I did read it. And enjoyed it.

    Clippy: We accidentally ended up visiting Canada on their Thanksgiving. It was very surreal.

  4. I was lucky enough to have two thanksgiving turkeys this year - one very posh and fancy one here in London with American friends and then another out in Shropshire with English friends. The English was more traditional! Both were fab. glad you had a good thanksgiving in Scotland. Are we just an international bunch?

  5. Anonymous2:00 AM

    You are traveling and learning -- and have now progressed to studying and understanding (??) the vagaries of pronunciation from the Land of My Birth, Scotland. On your travels you may want to visit Auchinleck (pronounced Affleck), Culzean (Kullane), Milngavie (Mullguy), Auchtermuchty (Oktermukty), Auchterarder (Okterarder), Athelstaneford (Ailshinford), Balluchullish (Ballahoolish), Beauly (Beoolie), Kingussie (Kinyoosie), Penicuik (Pennycook) or Weymiss (Weems). And always remember Glasgow does not rhyme with "how" (as in Glasghow) but with "go" (as in Glasgo)plus if you grab a taxi to go shopping on Sauchiehall street heaven only knows where you will end up if you don't ask them to take you to "Suckiehall Street". To complicate matters it is claimed that the purest form of English is spoken in Inverness (Capital of the Highlands). Are you confused enough yet?? Are you ready to return to Marilyn (Maryland) or Arkansas (Arkansaw) or maybe a vacation in Callas (Calais) Maine!!
    Different sides of The Pond and yet we both claim we speak English -- go figure!!

  6. And of course Greenock is, in fact, pronounced Greenock (which is what just what you'd choose to say if you're not English) not Gren-ock as in Gren - itch (Greenwich), as my English in laws insist.

    I hope you had a good holiday in Kirkudbright!

  7. Since we've moved on to place names: Before I moved to the UK (actually, for a short time after that, as well) I believed there was a city in Scotland called Edinburgh (pronounced Ed in burg) and another, which, strangely, I could not find on a map but which people talked about a lot, called "Ed en burra."

  8. After eight years of living in the UK, I gave up trying to do Thanksgiving, yet it was the holiday I enjoyed the most upon repatriating to the U.S.--so much less commercial than Christmas. What's more, I think I found it easy to forgo Thanksgiving during my years in the UK as I enjoyed the way the English do Christmas and threw my energies into this instead. As you know, a UK Christmas typically involves a sumptuous meal of turkey, brussels sprouts and so on--so I got my Thanksgiving dinner then. But it was more than that--the combination of Christmas (for family) and Boxing Day (for friends) resembled our Thanksgiving in spirit.

    Hmmm... Perhaps this also accounts for why I no longer enjoy American Christmas but prefer Thanksgiving.

    What a twisted life we expats lead!

  9. Anonymous2:02 PM

    Don't worry anon- with a wife whose father is from Glasgow Mike has already been introduced to Milngavie etc. My Scottish relatives take fun in testing . We have had several holidays in Scotland and are slowly coming across the list of sites you've named.Then Mike gets his own back when we travel over the pond- all those Native American place names

  10. Hi Mike! I hope you are having great holidays. I don't feel right when I can't celebrate Thanksgiving properly either. Sounds like you had quite a feast. Do you realize I met you in person just about one year ago this week?? :) Hope you're taking care!

  11. Brit Fancy: A year! My how time flies. Say "Hi" to Victoria for me.