A Foreign Thanksgiving

Leah Feldman

Watching the sun come up over the British countryside from an early morning train to Scotland is greater than watching the sun come up over American Apparel franchise from the back of a 200-person early morning pre-Black Friday queue wrapping around 46th street.

I am truly convinced of this. My knees hardly fit in this seat. The coffee I was served is weak and costs more than I would ever pay for one double its size in the States. It was cold and rainy when I woke up in London this morning – as it usually is when I wake up in London in the morning – and Scotland will only be colder. My stomach is still turning a bit from the well-intentioned but sub-par attempt at Thanksgiving turkey I was served at a North London pub last night, one I traveled 45 minutes to in hopes of maintaining some semblance of the Thanksgiving spirit and tradition I’ve always so cherished.

But, I digress. Again, I repeat my conviction; I would rather be here than where I would otherwise be, which is home, on the upper West side of Manhattan, among the good people of New York who I know are mad with post-Turkey Day shopping fever, the kind of mad I love and miss. Not that I would ever fight the good fight of the Black Friday warrior – as a native of New York, I know that kind of bravery is a thin veil for a death wish; even on a good day, the lines at K-Mart can make an agoraphobic “online-only” out of the bravest shopper. That being said, today is hard. Last night was hard. Yesterday was the third Thursday of November, a day better known in the States as Thanksgiving – better known here in England as Thursday, or “OH MY HEAVENS IT’S STILL NEARLY CHRISTMAS.”

I woke up to my usual bout of Facebook-inspired homesickness, magnified on this day by Instagram’d images of turkey being seasoned, pumpkin pies being sprinkled with cinnamon and nutmeg, status updates of declarations of gratitude for the family and friends that they were blessed to be with on this day of wholesome American family time, apparently better spent in front of social networking apparatuses.  Determined to spend the day doing anything other than sulking over the parade I would not be watching and the sweet potatoes I would not be eating, I got out of bed, grabbed my obligatory weapon against London’s ever-steady onslaught of precipitation (“umbrella,” to those unfamiliar with the artillery of the English) and headed out. English breakfast, a visit to Kensington Palace to comment half-heartedly about the beauty of the ornate gilded EVERYTHING of such places, a stop into Harrods for a souvenir or two and off to see the family I’d be spending the day with. I am studying abroad in England for a semester. I am quite lucky in that two of my mother’s sisters live in London at the moment; both have for quite some time, and I was therefore not without the consolation of family on Thanksgiving. They are wonderful women. They adore and respect my mother immensely and are therefore always eager to make sure I am as taken care of as they can arrange; maybe simply to ensure the positive reviews of encounters with them I am sure to recount to my mother, but hey, a free meal is a free meal these days. More especially so in British pounds.

My Thanksgiving was not unpleasant. It did take place in a pub, and the food was not homemade. It was with a quaint party of five: a stark contrast to the 30-person gathering of friends and family I’ve grown accustomed to – fond of, in fact – at my aunt and uncle’s creek-side home in Williston, Conn. It’s hard to be far from home on the holidays, no matter how nice your alternative options are. The pub was pleasant and warm, but the gravy was not my mother’s intoxicating concoction, I was not kicking my older brother’s shins under the table, and we weren’t going to be watching any football; not the American type, anyhow.

One might take from the variety and bounty of my complaints that I have deviated, in composition of this article, from my original standpoint. A forgivable misconception. As a New Yorker, as well as being well versed in the horrors of retail shopping, I also have a well-tuned and varied propensity for complaining. As far as I can tell, it is as yet unmatched in the greater Northeast area, to say nothing of the tight-lipped empire of Great Britain.

For emphasis, I will repeat: I would rather be here than anywhere else. I would rather sit with my weak coffee and stomachache on a train to Scotland than be in bed with a cranberry-apple muffin and cold turkey-leg breakfast back home. (Something I’ve learned: be careful of this. Eating in bed is a pleasure so decadent, so entirely intoxicating that your first experience with it will be like boring-poison, seeping into your veins and turning you into a ‘bore,’ the kind of ‘boring’ you called your parents for wanting to nap on a summer afternoon when all you could imagine doing with your day is running in high-speed circles on the beach. Indulge

in caution).

Don’t believe me? I wouldn’t either, especially because in the most simplistic way, it’s not entirely true. As I write these words, there’s little I’d like more than to be in my own bed with said leftovers for breakfast. However, I know that in the future, this currently unattainable dream will become a reality. Probably more than once over. And while I lie there, happily surrounded by friends and family and all the American niceties I now so covet, I will likely be telling stories of adventures I’d encountered on my Thanksgiving abroad. I may scroll over Facebook albums I’ve not yet created in places like Scotland, where I’m currently headed, or Poland, where I’ll travel to next weekend, or Barcelona, where my European adventures will come to a close, and I will happily but not without some wistfulness, board a plane headed home.

Life abroad can be exhausting. The pressure to “do it right” that comes from every direction at nearly all moments can be overwhelming. Planning trips, eating the obligatory local foods, making sure you’ve arranged your Facebook albums exactly right in order to communicate the best trip ever to all of your adoring and envious Facebook fans, taking care of yourself and mastering the staggering vernacular of a new place takes a lot out of you. But even in the loneliest moments – on the rainiest and darkest Monday afternoon you’ve ever encountered, or the third Friday spent watching “Lost” alone in bed, or choked up on the phone with your dad on Thanksgiving, promising him you’ll eat an entire pumpkin pie for him when you get home, you have to remember that it’s all worth it. I read somewhere that the world is a book, and those who fail to travel it read but one page.

Not every book is worth finishing – someone wise once told me life’s too short for that – but this one is. Even through the boring bits, the scary bits, the parts that make you want to curl up in bed and never come out and the parts that make you smile and laugh and cry, nothing will feel as good as knowing you stuck it out till the end and soaked up every word. I know the homemade pumpkin pie my dad stuck in the freezer for me will be stale and freezer-burned by the time I come home. But I also know it won’t be shephard’s pie from Sainsbury’s or the haggis I know I’ll have to stomach this weekend in Edinburgh or the microwavable chicken breast I’ve heated up for dinner every night for the last three months, and surrounded, finally, by my family and friends, nothing will have ever tasted sweeter.

Contact Leah Feldman at [email protected]