November 23, 2012

Thanksgiving abroad

"Certain things catch your eye,
But pursue only those
that capture your heart."

Old Indian saying

The American culture has managed to export two festivities to Europe over the past decade. One more successfully than the other.

When we first moved to Milano in 2000 I used to hunt down Halloween decorations in the most unusual little stores throughout town. I had to sew my kids' costumes simply because very few Italians had ever heard of this celebration, much less dressed up in a way that wouldn't be elegant and fashionable. We're in Italy, right? Ordering from Oriental Trading and the likes was out of the question because a) customs charged you a fortune and b) the parcel either arrived late or not at all.

A few years later in Madrid a group of determined mums organized a local a trick-or-treat tour around the neighborhood which is when my then 3-year old daughter discovered how to stock sweet supplies for an entire year. The Spanish even had a translation for it: "truco o trato".

Nowadays the shops in Paris are full of Halloween decorations and it is all turning rather commercial. Understandably nobody dares make money from the traditional religious celebration of Toussaint (All Saints) a day later.

Thanksgiving on the other hand has remained a strictly American happening. Food usually exports well. Every kid around the world knows hamburgers, pizza and even sushi. Might it be that non-Americans don't know the origins nor do they understand its meaning? You tell me?!?

So, as I headed off to the local butcher's today telling him I needed an 8kg turkey he looked at me in utter surprise. "Did I know how to cook such a large bird?" Trust me, I've had some trial-and-error runs over the years with ovens in Argentina, Italy, France, Switzerland and Spain. I think I can handle a Parisian turkey!

I criss-crossed the city to find real maple syrup (not that caramel-flavoured corn syrup), fresh cranberries and sweet potatoes imported from North Carolina.

A green grocer's stand selling chestnuts caught my eye. As I started asking the vendor for sage, thyme, rosemary and green beans, he went on suggesting I needed pumpkin, sweet potatoes or cranberries. Ahhhhhh, so some people DO know about Thanksgiving. Maybe I should invite the butcher and the greengrocer for lunch and show them what it's all about?!?


  1. I love this! This was our first Thanksgiving overseas. I only had to cook a few dishes of our Thanksgiving meal this year, another family took care of the turkey, but I had some fun finding the right ingredients or substitutes that would work. The people in Norway seemed to have very little idea about Thanksgiving.

  2. The most gratifying part is when you have served your new friends their first Thanksgiving ever. They will never forget it.
    I love your Venice photos.


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