Thursday, November 23, 2006


Thanksgiving can be a surreal experience when you are living abroad. It is a holiday that takes years of conditioning – frantic, last minute grocery shopping on Wednesday, overeating on Thursday, Christmas shopping on Friday, and swearing you’ll never so much as look at another turkey or pumpkin pie again on Saturday. Over the years this settles into a comfortable, if slightly neurotic, routine. It can’t be an American holiday without an appropriate amount of neurosis, after all.

Obviously, Greeks don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, considering they are not a country founded by wayward pilgrims who saw the devil in nature and decided that razing, partitioning, and selling land was a good way to settle themselves in their new found freedom. I don’t know for sure, but I am fairly certain that no Greeks shared a thankful feast with aborigines they would systematically exploit and drive away, but that’s a different story altogether. Honestly, I’m not knocking Thanksgiving. I do think there is a lot of goodness in the core of the holiday, and any excuse to eat good food, make merry with friends and family, and be thankful for all you have is a good one.

My conditioned responses set in the Monday before Thanksgiving. I frantically make a grocery list, knowing that I should go to the store before Wednesday to avoid the insane rush of last minute shoppers. When I inevitably end up going to the store on Wednesday anyway (best laid plans, and all that) I stare incredulously at the near empty store.

“But, it’s 4pm on the day before Thanksgiving!!!” I cry out, exasperated.

People look at me curiously. Then it hits me. This is not America. It is not the day before eat-yourself-sick day in Greece. Ironically, it is smack dab in the throes of the Orthodox forty day fasting period before Christmas. It is a good thing America isn’t made up primarily of Orthodox Christians, or fasting might be a thing of the past.

Thankfully, most of the people staring decide that I am just another crazy American and go back to their business. The full realization sinks in. No turkey. No stuffing. No squash casserole. No homemade rolls. No mashed taters. No pumpkin pie. (Well, unless I decide to cook these things for myself, which is a huge mathematical improbability. Improbable, but not impossible.) No holiday cheer. No parade. No football. No Christmas sales. No family imbroglio. Just another day like any other day.

Each year I keep thinking that maybe I’ll forget Thanksgiving, that I’ll wake up one day and realize that Thanksgiving had come and gone and I gave it nary a thought. But somehow that never happens. The Thanksgiving conditioning automatically kicks in as easily as my instinct for survival. Pavlov might be impressed. I figure one of two things can happen. After about thirty years of living abroad, I’ll lose the conditioning, or I’ll start cooking my own Thanksgiving dinners, thus reinforcing it. The improbable might become probable. It might snow in August on a Greek island. Greek politicians might stop being corrupt. America might legalize gay marriage and overturn any constitutional amendments banning it. Fish might grow legs. Pigs might fly. But in the end, it will still be just another day – another day among all the days that I celebrate everything I am thankful for.

To all of you who are celebrating this thankful holiday, Happy Thanksgiving. To all of you who aren’t, perhaps you can take just a moment to think about all the things you are thankful for, and rejoice for a moment.


Scruffy said...

Happy Thanksgiving to you...

Remember, the American Farm school of Thess has the best turkeys in Greece and you could always get one of those and bake away....

And one thing I've realized with my Greek relatives is that no matter how many times you tell them that Tzadziki is not part of Thanksgiving, they keep trying.

Truth be told, I also eat Tzadziki with my turkey on Thanksgiving even when we were in the States on vacation. I've converted...

J.Doe said...

Happy Thanksgiving

Anonymous said...




Nicole said...


Happy Turkey day mel!


newscoma said...

Having spent one Thanksgiving in Amsterdam and one in Montreal, it's an odd feeling.
Happy Belated Thanksgiving to you and your family.
Greeting from the home state.

Shelley - At Home in Rome said...

Ciao! Found you over at Cythia's blog Reboot. I love Greece and am looking forward to following your adventures.

From one expat to another, hope you had a great Turkey day, despite the fact that it's not quite the same on this side of the ocean!

Joanna said...

Oh, what a great post. Especially loved the meditation on conditioning. I hope to never lose my conditioning from my hokey Midwestern upbring (especially taste for gravy comfort food).
I miss Thanksgiving and this year I missed an expat Thanksgiving dinner because I was sick with a bronchial infection and could only eat chicken soup and yogurt. I want my yams! I want my stuffing!
Maybe I should just make some this weekend?

melusina said...

Scruffy, I forgot about those turkeys. I'll remember if I ever decide to cook a dinner for the whole family. Why shouldn't tzat be a sidedish? It is a wonderful concoction!

Thanks J. Doe =)

Thanks Zardoz =)

Right back at you Nicole, although I'm a little late now!

Newscoma, thanks for the belated wishes and for visiting from the home state!

Shelley, hi, thanks for visiting! I love Italy myself, spent some time in Camucia/Cortona, Florence, and Pisa. LOVED IT.

Joanna, gravy is comfort food, too bad I never learned how to make it properly. Every time I try to make it, it turns out rather sad. I was going to cook a mini-Thanksgiving dinner this weekend with a chicken but I got sick too. Bleh.

Sand Gets in My Eyes said...

Unlike you, I've been hoarding appropriate "Thanksgiving food" for months! Knowing how inconsistent the supply chain in Arabia can be at times - esp when it comes to American favorites - I pick up canned pumpkins and sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce etc ANY time I see them! Also in my over-stuffed pantry - yellow corn meal, marshmallow cream, peppermint candycanes (NOT strawberry!)and assorted other items I cant live without during the holidays! That said, we had a terrific Thanksgiving here. Thursday is logical Saturday so no work, and there were plenty of thankkful friends around the table. Regardless of the food - there's plenty to be thankkful for! Take care!