Celebrating Thanksgiving Abroad
By: Thomas W. Schulte
While I hate to admit it, my mother’s twenty-three year prophecy has come true—Thanksgiving has dethroned Christmas as our family’s favorite holiday. Yes, Christmas is a longer, more joyous time, but in our house Thanksgiving is a day (or two) of tranquility and relaxation. A day in which I am encouraged to become ‘one with the couch’ and indulge in coma-like naps. And though I patiently await this year’s Turkey Day, I’d be lying if I said Thanksgiving has always been a positive experience—let me explain….
Several years ago I was fortunate to be given the opportunity to spend a fall semester studying in Seville, Spain. To my delight, all five of my family members were able visit and travel from Barcelona to Madrid, finally ending in my city of Seville. While we all possessed a mutual feeling of sadness for being away from home for Thanksgiving, the travel-bug reigned supreme, overwhelming any feelings of homesickness, while blinding us all of our common sense.
It may seem obvious, but not once did any of our party of six stop and think about Thanksgiving dinner plans. Even now as I write this, I fail to come up with any sort of rational excuse.
The realization of the Thanksgiving holiday did not present itself until that Thursday morning. I wouldn't exactly describe it as a family-wide panic, as my sisters and mother were perfectly content perusing the local stores, while my father and I hit the phones—dialing just about every restaurant in the city. Between the hosts and hostesses we offended with our poor language skills and Spain’s utter disinterest in our American holiday, we were left with one of two options; attend the Hotel Alfonso XXIII’s $125/per person adaptation of a Thanksgiving Day meal or wander into a restaurant as we had practiced the past two weeks. With three children attending college at that time, obviously my parents chose the latter.
The meal began just as all previous dining experiences thus far—blindly ordering whatever we could pronounce, while praying we could stomach-it. Instead of a seasonal beer, we were given goblets of white wine. Rather than mashed potatoes and stuffing, the waiter brought over ox tail and an anchovy-based pasta salad. And finally, in substitute of a freshly-carved 20lb turkey, we were served a massive wok, filled to the brim of steamy Seafood Paella—complete with several beady-eyed shrimp.
I wish I could say that the evening ended with full bellies, big smiles, and endless laughter, but that’d be an egregious lie. In reality it consisted of family bickering and miscommunication. This miscommunication then resulted in me accidentally taking a train to Cadiz (and back) the next morning, which is an entirely different story in itself.