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Thanksgiving 101 for Non-Americans – Top Ten Lesser-Known Facts

Dedicated to all Non-Americans in the USA who will celebrate Thanksgiving: Because I know what it’s like to be in a foreign country and have no idea what’s going on and wish someone had given me a quick run down on the essentials.

1) A Journey of a Thousand Delays begins with a Single Step – Score a Free Flight Voucher by being a Good Samaritan

Thanksgiving is one of the heaviest travel holidays of the year. This means that whether you are driving, flying or dog-sledding your way to Thanksgiving dinner, expect delays. Consider being a savvy traveler willing to take advantage of the chaos by booking your departure earlier than intended. This will allow you to be the kindly passenger who, out of the goodness of his/her heart, graciously offers to sacrifice his/her seat to the frantic lady from Jackson ready to hurl her QVC handbag at the poor Southwest “Hi-I’m-Alison” girl that just told Jackson purse murderess that the flight is overbooked. You step in and become hero of the day and entitled to a free ticket voucher. Not that the free tickets or cash you rack up as a volunteer for a later flight had anything to do with your willingness to be a good Samaritan. And all good Samaritans need a place to sleep so don’t forget to ask about that either if you have to stay an extra day.

2) All relatives far and wide plus any strays and always room for more

Thanksgiving is THE holiday when all great aunts and not-so-great relatives from Anchorage, Alaska, to Auborn, Alabama converge on Auntie Em’s 1964 ranch house in Arkadelphia, Arkansas to stuff themselves with over-bloated turkeys and mushroom soup green beans baked with a crust of cornflakes. Thanksgiving supersedes in size and chaos other holidays such as Easter and Christmas when families are less apt to travel and prefer smaller gatherings. Thanksgiving is also the holiday when all upstanding citizens of the home of the free and brave believe it their god-given civic duty as  to ensure EVERYONE gets their share of stuffing and potatoes. Accept that if asked, you must comply. The only acceptable excuse for not attending a dinner is proof that you’ve already accepted an invitation to turkey elsewhere. And if you pick up another stray foreigner on your way to dinner, no worries. Bring ‘em along. Auntie Em can always get Uncle Frank to haul in the picnic table from the back porch and make room for more.

 3) Thou Shallt Not Go Hungry and Must Have Pie

Thanksgiving turkey beauty

Thanksgiving turkey beauty

There will be lots and lots of food and then more food. Forget the diet. Rather than take normal portions, try a bit of everything because every dish probably stems from a different relative and you want to make sure each relative gets sufficient praise for his/her specific dish. Which brings me to the next point.

 4) “I’ll bring the corn slime and you bring the yams with marshmallows”

On Thanksgiving, the host will make the turkey but everyone else offers to bring a dish. This is done by simply asking the host what you should bring. If the host tells you, ‘Nothing but yourself,’ don’t fall for it. You don’t have to feverishly search for traditional Thanksgiving dishes. Bring something typical from your country– they’ll love it. Guaranteed. Especially if it’s not skewered guinea pigs.

 5) So what? Even if it is an Acquired Taste – You MUST eat the pumpkin pie! Seriously!

OK, I have celebrated enough Thanksgivings with non-Americans to know that –sadly – the American passion for pumpkin pie is not universally shared. Yes, it’s pumpkin. Yes, pumpkin is a squash. Yes, we mix it with sugar, condensed milk and cinnamon and then slap on a mountain of whipped cream and call it desert. Yes, it has a not-pudding-and-not-solid mushy kind of slimy consistency. And yes, we seriously do love it. So if you don’t have a thing for it, politely request a smaller slice buried in plenty of whipped cream to hide the color, taste and texture. And if you are really not into it, ask for it to go because you simply ate much too much but would hate to pass it up. Whatever you do, under no circumstances shall you blurt out your aversion to pumpkin pie.  Trust me. Just don’t.

 6)  There will be Football

There will be a TV on during the holiday feast and it will be tuned to a football game. Uncle Kenny might be the only one watching from his rocking chair in the corner of the den and randomly give a hoop at the touch downs while calling out play-by-plays to the kitchen. He will intermittently be joined by other male attendees at various stages of the game. View it as your opportunity to get a breather from all the cheek pinching. Grab a beer and join Uncle Kenny. The two of you will be left alone in your invisible little man cave in the middle of the chaos only to be interrupted by servings of apple pie and almond-flavored coffee.


Pres. Lydon Johnson pardons the turkey in 1967

Pres. Lydon Johnson pardons the turkey in 1967

7) Cobbler and Gobbler

Cobbler and Gobbler were the two lucky fowls pardoned by President Obama in 2012. Here is a list of the others and their subsequent fowl fates:

Every year one turkey is pardoned by the US President and no one knows why or ever asks if that means that the presidential family is eating chicken. That’s not important. Important is to know that that’s the way it is and since it might be mentioned in passing during the dinner, you should know who Cobbler and Gobbler or whoever the lucky duck – turkey – is that year.

 8) Grace is usually said

At most Thanksgiving dinners, someone will be elected to say grace. You should pray in advance that it’s not you. If it is you, bow your head, adopt a solemn tone and be thankful for all the food and good friends. This should get you a nod of approval from Auntie Em. Now, in many households, part of saying grace includes holding hands. So don’t get anxious if Aunt Cath suddenly grabs hold of you at the table. She’s not getting fresh unless it’s after the first bite.

 9) “So do they have refrigerators there?”

Statistically speaking, you get so many relatives together in one place, there’s just bound to be a lose nut in the bunch, or one who’s just living on the edge of Wackoville or simply severely deficient in social intelligence. Every family has it’s black sheep or two. Or three or four. So if you are from the Caucus and the high-honor-roll nephew asks if that’s where all Caucasians come from; from Austria, and Uncle Bert comments on his life-long love of kangaroos; from Venice and Nanna inquires about window blinds or from the Republic of Georgia and cousin Joe exclaims that they’ve flown through Atlanta once, please don’t take offense. It’s really just friendly (albeit ignorant) loving folks with good intentions and absolutely zero geographical knowledge trying to connect with you.

10) The Hangover

As you drive home from your first turkey dinner, in addition to the relief you’ll feel over your achievement of successfully surviving your first Thanksgiving feast and having the experience behind you (for at least a year), you will feel an extreme grogginess engulf your entire being. You will wonder how you will ever wrestle yourself out of bed at 4 am to get to the super Black Friday sale down at the local Get-it-Now Mart and you will suspect that Auntie Em is popping sleeping pills into her cranberries to outrace you at the Elf-on-a-Shelf giveaway. But Auntie Em will tell you it’s just the tryptophan in the turkey. Then some know-it-all on the ever-blaring TV will refute her claim and say it’s just because you’ve overeaten. But I would stick by Auntie Em’s turkey wisdom. After all, you want to be invited back next year when you will have mastered Thanksgiving 101 and be first in line for some pumpkin pie.

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