Before I went abroad, I had never spent a holiday away from home. Whether it was something as simple as Labor Day, or as important as Christmas, I had always been in the United States and with family and friends. It never occurred to me how much being around people I loved mattered until I went to Switzerland for a year. Halloween was pretty much the same, and my flat mates and I dressed up as typical 20-year-olds in the States would. It wasn’t until Thanksgiving that it hit me.
I had never really stopped to think about the fact that the rest of the world has no idea what Thanksgiving is. Looking back on it, it’s painfully obvious: the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock in North America…nowhere else. It just wasn’t something that I had ever had to contemplate. And even when I did realize it, I wasn’t all that concerned. My program was paying for the group to go to a 5-star hotel on Lake Geneva that was serving a Thanksgiving dinner for all the American ex-pats. My friends and I got dressed up and prepared for a great evening.
I don’t know about the rest of you…but food is kind of important to me. When I remember awesome times in my life, there is generally food associated with it. Whether it was the wild boar paté in France, or the lobster paella in Barcelona, I tend to eat my way through whatever country I’m in. This doesn’t change when I’m at home, and typically my Thanksgiving dinners are legendary. My father cooks an enormous turkey, three kinds of stuffing, piles of various potatoes, green beans, peas, cranberry orange relish, rolls, and at least four different kinds of pies. It is a veritable smorgasbord. This had been my Thanksgiving since I could remember, and I assumed the dinner at the Hotel Kempinski would be something similar.
The bread basket wasn’t all that different. The wine was undoubtedly better. I was a little weirded out by the paté and cornichons appetizer, but prepared to accept it. However, when they brought me my plate of dinner, I almost came unglued. Where my pile of turkey should have been, there was one slice of turkey breast. Where my stuffing should’ve been, there were four roasted chestnuts. There was no gravy. There was no cranberry sauce. I had a perfectly formed pile of haricots verts, maybe fifteen in total. This was alarming, but I could work with it. It wasn’t until I realized what the last thing on my plate was that I lost it. Instead of potatoes, they had put a shot glass full of sweet potato foam on my plate. Clearly the chefs at Hotel Kempinski had been fairly liberal in their interpretation of Thanksgiving, and I was suffering the consequences. I went home that night, skyped with my dad, and cried myself to sleep.
In retrospect, I should’ve been prepared for it. I should’ve realized that even though the menu said ‘Thanksgiving Dinner’, odds were good that it would be drastically different. So I’m hoping that in reading this blog, you future travelers will prepare yourselves for this kind of situation and appreciate it for what it is. I could’ve taken it as a wonderful new experience, instead of letting it ruin one of my favorite holidays. Before you go abroad, think about what American holidays you’ll be missing, and how you can try to approach it while overseas, and make the best of a less-than-ideal situation.
Unless they give you sweet potato foam. There’s no way around that one.
Kat Cosgrove, OIE Graduate Peer Advisor