I learned more in some ways what it means to be American by living overseas than I did living here. Living abroad, you quickly learn the stereotypes about your home country (including how they have a lot of truth in them).
One stereotype I was happy to own was that Americans are optimistic, positive people. And the fourth Thursday in November was a special time to shine.
When we first arrived in England, we gravitated towards other Americans on Thanksgiving. We would gather for a big feast and play American football (as opposed to “their football”). We all got excited when we found a small gas (petrol) station owned by a British lady who had grown up in America and was keen enough on some of the traditional American foods that she had them shipped over. I still remember paying 9 pounds (at the time about $16) for a can of pumpkin and some marshmallow crème. It was money well spent to get some of the traditional Thanksgiving menu right.
The longer we stayed, though, the more we shared this holiday with British friends. It was fun for us to introduce them to this uniquely American holiday. They always enjoyed it, partly because they don’t have anything like it, and partly because it played into some of their favorite stereotypes of us: we love sweet food and are just so darn positive. An entire holiday devoted to eating and counting all the good things that have happened? It sounded foreign and enticing to our British friends. I remember being really conscious as I prepared this American tradition for them, that I wanted to make sure that I represented both aspects well – the sweet food AND the thanksgiving part. My guess is that most of us have the sweet food already planned out for tomorrow, but do we have the gratitude part planned?