How Two Expats Celebrate Thanksgiving on Both Sides of the Pond

This week is Thanksgiving week in the U.S. and to celebrate I hope to run a series of guest posts by expats on their Thanksgiving experiences. When I lived in England Thanksgiving was the American holiday I missed the most. The following is the first guest post.

What’s Thanksgiving like for an American in the UK, and a Brit in the US?


For American expats living in the UK, Thanksgiving is a mixed bag. It can be joyful, nostalgic, sad and frustrating all at once. Certainly, it is not a day most Americans let go by unnoticed. It brings with it the joy of the season, and the bittersweet memories of Thanksgivings past.

Then it reminds you of how far away from home you are, and for some of us, for how long. And finally it makes you realize that you are surrounded by people who don’t share your memories of this day, who have no idea what it is about and don’t understand when you try to explain it to them, and who refuse to understand your passion for pumpkin pie.

And then you try to make dinner.

Thanksgiving dinner in the UK is an exercise in futility. You tell yourself, when you are forced to make the first substitution (a real turkey won’t fit in your oven so you buy just a breast), that it won’t make that much of a difference.

Then another substitution (this one involving stuffing) forces its way in and before you know it you’re serving up more apologies than meals as you treat your friends and family to a “real” Thanksgiving Dinner.

If you managed to find any, your guests will be looking suspiciously at the creamed corn and struggling to stifle remarks about how it looks like someone already ate it.

They will wonder why you are making such a big deal over the missing drumsticks and how having cranberry sauce from Marks and Spencer’s could possibly ruin a meal considering it sounds so much better than the stuff you are describing that comes out of a can.

And then, after the bravest among them have joined you for the pumpkin pie and whipped cream dessert, they will ask, “Is that it?” and you will have to agree that it is, and understand that you are still alone in “getting” it.

So you finish the pumpkin pie on your own and tell yourself that, next year, you’ll just go to Pizza Express for dinner.


It’s a bit weird being an expat in the US at this time of year. “What are you doing for the holiday weekend?” usually gets a blank stare from me even after almost twenty years here. “Oh Thanksgiving” (with emphasis on the second syllable, please note). “Not much really”, I reply to looks of disbelief mixed with pity.

When you’re not brought up with Thanksgiving, or anything remotely like it, it’s easy to miss the gravitas that this “holiday” has. Most of the time it completely sneaks up on me and I run around at the last minute, gathering up other expat waifs and strays for a big meal.

For many Americans however, Thanksgiving is more of a family affair than Christmas. Fortunately we have a teeny family here and we’re seeing them at Christmas so the pressure is off.

It also helps that my husband travels a lot on business so the last thing he has ever wanted to do was take a flight at THE busiest travel time of the year with three kids in tow. Flight prices are ridiculous, the airports are packed, and of course the weather is usually at its most un-co-operative.

Friends of mine are already fretting about how to make peace with the brother-in-law from hell who got drunk and shouted at everyone last year, or the fact that they are guilted into staying in their parents’ house even though there’s no room for all the kids. Happy families indeed!

This year, for some reason, husband is going berserk and doing the entire meal himself, from scratch. I keep popping my head into the kitchen to see if there’s “anything I can do”, but apparently it’s all under control.

He’s made the cornbread and biscuits (more like unsweetened British scones) for the cornbread stuffing (yee-haw), and has identified his chosen method of brining the turkey, which he will pick up on Wednesday. I will probably end up peeling potatoes like Cinderella, but that’s fine by me.

As long as he doesn’t make that bloody awful green bean casserole I’ll be happy.

This post was by Mike Harling and Toni Hargis of the Pond Parleys blog. Mike is an American expat in Sussex and Toni is a British expat in Chicago. Unfortunately they are no longer writing the blog but it’s still worth looking through the archives for more funny and interesting posts like this one.


  1. says

    Mike’s difficulties of finding the bits and pieces he likes for his Thanksgiving Dinner in the UK made me laugh – fast forward one month, and I’ll be making similar substitutions in an attempt to come up with a British Christmas dinner in the US. Happily, I live in an area where several imported products are available, and since I don’t really like Christmas pudding or mince pies anyway, a Panettone does just fine.
    One thing I love about Thanksgiving in the US is the concept of the Turkey Trot – an organized fun run in the morning, in preparation for feasting later. Compared with a usual Thursday morning at work, a few sunny miles of running feels like a treat.