November 19, 2011

Be an Expat Cultural Ambassador: Host a Thanksgiving Lunch the Saturday After

Spaniards will also be interested in all the Thanksgiving
 iconography, like the cornucopia or seasonal squashes.
I have a suggestion to all my expat readers in Spain. Next Saturday, a week from today, host a Thanksgiving lunch and invite some of your Spanish friends.

I know some of you are already planning to continue this American tradition, despite the fact that there is no holiday on Thursday and that nobody else here is as excited or nostalgic as you are. But for those of you who are planning a meal, make sure to invite a local. And for those of you who weren't, reconsider hosting the meal. Thanksgiving ("Día de Acción de Gracias") is an excellent American tradition to share with your non-American friends. And I recommend that, rather than try and complicate matters by hosting it the Thursday evening of, move it to the following Saturday (Nov. 26th this year) for lunch, which will meld better with your Spanish friends and families' schedules and tendency to do family meals around lunchtime. (The weekend lunchtime in Spain, afterall, is practically the same as the unusually early 4PM Thanksgiving "dinner time" in the U.S.) Besides, I think the Saturday after Thanksgiving has practically become the official Expat Thanksgiving Day. (Run a quick search on "expat Thanksgiving" if you don't believe me.)

Our Thanksgiving table in 2009

A Thanksgiving meal is an excellent opportunity for you to be a cultural ambassador. I have hosted a Thanksgiving meal here in a Spain a couple of times already, and am gearing up for another one next week. My Spanish friends love it! Apparently they know all about it from watching American TV shows, and above all because of the series Friends. So they were tickled pink to see all the classic dishes: turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, various kinds of New world squashes, or sweet potato. But were interested in learning more about the many variations and culinary twists on Thanksgiving dishes that we Americans are more routinely exposed to back home. (What an opportunity to impress Spaniards with the fact that Americans do have a local cuisine!) They would also start to ask me about the story of the pilgrims (peregrinos, a.k.s. puritanos) and Indians (nativos, indígenas), though I would try and respond by talking about present day traditions like watching an American football game or the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade, or the annual presidential tradition of pardoning one turkey the Wednesday before. (You may also want to brush up on your Thanksgiving history ahead of time by visiting this site.)

The Macy's Parade in Manhattan: parade of cartoon characters, global logos, and holiday icons.
Watching it on television is one of several national Thanksgiving pastimes in the U.S.

What's more, back home the tradition in my family, and I believe in many families, was to always try and invite at least one person or couple who you only sort of knew, but were interested in getting to know better. It helped to mix up the usual conversation. So Thanksgiving is a perfect platform for all you expats who've been too shy or had too hard a time getting your Spanish colleagues to hang out with you socially. Just play the "it's culturally important to me" card (even if it's not). I personally try to aim for a mix of Americans and Spaniards, so that there's an even cross-cultural dialogue at my Thanksgiving lunch (and also so that I'm not the only American there besieged by questions... and, for that matter, so that there are other Americans there to argue with me over my limited, or biased answers).

My wife's apple pie with a lattice top for the pie crust

I'm giving you a week's notice, which should be plenty of time to plan it. Some dishes are even easier here to tackle than back home. Here in Valencia, Pollos Planes, a butcher chain that specializes in poultry, has been able to provide me a fresh whole turkey (pavo) with only 4-5 days notice. Fresh turkey, not frozen! Though in my experience it is often hard finding the ingredients to bake things in Spain, El Corte Inglés carries most of the baking goods you will need. They also carry certain classic accompaniments like Cranberry sauce (salsa de arándanos rojos). My wife manages to make an amazing apple pie (tarta de manzana)... a dessert that always impresses our Spanish guests both for its deliciousness and its American authenticity. Being from Texas we always make corn bread (pan de maíz), but surely you'll have some regional dish that you'll want to introduce your friends to.

So try it out. I promise you will have fun. Your American guests will appreciate it for the nostalgia and pride, and your Spanish guests will enjoy sharing an authentic American experience with their American hosts. So Happy Turkey Day to all of you!

A Thanksgiving Turkey, centerpiece of the holiday meal.


Expat Taxes said...

Looks delicious!

Dasha said...

Great idea!

An Expat in Spain said...

Thanks Dasha! It is also very fun. I see you have a blog/webpage in works on a Food Tour in Valencia. Let me know if you ever get that going. I'm sure it would be a success. The Mercat Central alone would make it worth it.

Wenni Donna said...

Good to know about your thanksgiving party. Last year on thanksgiving, I arranged a dinner party with my family at an excellent LA venue. Booked this event through internet and did beautiful arrangements for this party.

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