Thanksgiving Overseas


My husband asked me last night, as we were out eating out Thanksgiving dinner, when the last time I had Thanksgiving at “home” was.  Like with my mother and siblings and all that.  And I realized that I haven’t been home for this holiday since 1998 when I was still, you know, living at home. It isn’t as if I have been skipping Thanksgiving.  I was away at university from 1999-2004 and of course had no money to fly from South Dakota to New York. And over the years the physical distance has grown.

It is one of those days where you can start to question your life choices.  “Is living in China 12,000 miles from my family and being unable to go home for Thanksgiving a good idea?” you may ask yourself.  I know that it is easy for me to get sucked into self-pity at this time of year and COMPLETELY forget that 1.) I chose this life 2.) I had to jump through about 5000 hoops to have this lifestyle 3.) I like my life and 4.) People who has as much privilege as I do  who whine are not cute and no one feel bad if they randomly trip over their own feet.  And 5.) Suck it up.  Which I do. usually followed by calling my mother.

Thanksgiving for me is about friendship and community.  One of the best things about being an expat teacher at an international school is that there is an instant community.  You pretty much better like the people that you work with because these are the people that you are going to have to choose your friends from.  Good luck. And I have had good luck.  My group of friends in Morocco is still so close that we chat pretty much every day and have managed to coordinate meet ups.  This is impressive when you consider that each of us is living on a separate continent. 

Before China I have always either hosted or been invited to a friend’s house for Thanksgiving.  Both of these options have involved large amounts of people.  And me cooking.  Unfortunately, in Beijing, I am limited by my “oven” (i.e. slightly large toaster oven). I am not a martyr and will not be making a Thanksgiving dinner for 20 in my current setup. 

International Thanksgivings are pretty amazing. If you ever have the chance to host one take my advice and go pot luck. Americans tend to be homesick and usually this results in them throwing themselves into cooking.  I also love when there is a significant portion of non-Americans in the mix.  It is pretty cool to be with someone for their first Thanksgiving.  “So the point is to eat until you feel sick and then spend the rest of the day watching a parade/football?”  Yes, yes it is. It turns out that we all have a different idea of Thanksgiving.  And when you blend your ideas and someone else’s ideas you start to notice the things that you take for granted.  For example: is there a difference between stuffing vs. dressing?  Should cornbread, oysters, and/or sausage be involved?  (Spoiler: the answer is yes, no, yes.)

We attended a Canadian Thanksgiving hosted by a friend in October but for the last few years on the day of Thanksgiving Carsten and I have eaten out. If you do enough research you can choose from a number of restaurants serving variations on the typical American meal Which is how I ended up spending last night eating dinner after work (no day off because international school) at “Slow Boat Sanlitun Brewpub’s Thanksgiving Dinner” with my German husband who is highly entertained by all things American kitsch and a Chinese friend who has never done the Thanksgiving meal thing.

I enjoyed the meal.  The adult plate came with 4 separate beers but I opted for the free flow softdrinks because I am a lightweight.  We started off with a huge salad.  There was mango involved so it didn’t entirely feel seasonally appropriate.  But it was pleasant enough.  I was a little disappointed with the main meal when it came.  Mostly because it came on the same gigantic plate and was slightly dwarfed by it.  Some of it had to do with the large amount of Brussel sprouts.  Despite this initial impression everything on the plate was okay.  The white meat of the Turkey was actually excellent.  I find that Thanksgiving is a difficult meal for me to eat out for.  I am so conditioned for it to be home cooking that I am inevitably inclined to be overly judgy.  The desert was pretty good.  Pumpkin pie is a pretty safe bet and the addition of caramel sauce was pretty inspired.

But I miss making the meal myself.  I have many a pumpkin themed recipe that has been going to waste these last couple of years.  I read that there are a couple of places that you can order a whole roasted turkey to be delivered from.  Maybe I should bring back hosting for myself…