Korean thanksgiving (Chuseok) came and went fairly uneventfully last month, and I was disappointed that I didn’t get a chance to join in the festivities. So when a friend of mine invited me to an American thanksgiving party this month, I jumped at the chance. I’ve never spent any time in America (even though my friends all tell me I have an American accent) so I didn’t really know what to expect.
Our thanksgiving group was fairly mixed, and in fact the Americans were outnumbered with people from New Zealand, Canada, England, and Ireland making up the majority of the party. However, this didn’t stop everyone getting into the swing of thanksgiving. Under the guidance of our American host Britt, everyone was allocated various dishes to bring, along with an obligatory bottle of wine, of course. My contribution was a pumpkin pie, which Britt kindly picked up from the American army base for me when she went to get the turkey. But there were a whole host of fascinating dishes that some people actually made themselves.
The meal was taking place at Britt’s friend’s house, a small (but bigger than most) apartment, just the right size to squeeze the 13 of us in to. It was freezing out and everyone turned up wearing large coats and hats, bringing a cold wind and lots of festive cheer in with them. Once the room had heated up and a few bottles of wine had been opened, the party really got going, and everyone crowded into the kitchen to help cook. I was surprised to find that some of the dishes being made were things I hadn’t even heard of. There were candied yams (sweet potatoes cooked with marshmellows), devilled eggs (boiled eggs with a creamy yolk stuffing), green bean casserole (green beans in a mushroom sauce topped with breadcrumbs), bacon-wrapped stuffing (speaks for itself!), and of course an absolutely ginormous turkey. As we cooked, the Americans shared their thanksgiving family traditions and stories, and we started talking about cultural differences between our countries. Living in Korea, it it sometimes easy to forget that England has a culture that is separate to that of other English-speaking countries. By default as foreigners in Korea, we become easily lumped into the same group. Last night was a little reminder of how different our lives really are, and how much power there is in language to help bridge the gap between cultures. If we didn’t all speak English, perhaps our numerous cultural differences would be more apparent, and certainly much harder to share with one another! It made me want to study languages harder than ever.
When all the food was ready, we finally sat down to eat. I can definitely say that the meal was one of the best things I’ve eaten since I came to Korea. Parts of it tasted familiar and homely, parts of it totally new. In many ways, however, it simply reminded me of Christmas with my family, in the sense that it gave me that warm, fuzzy, full-bellied feeling that you get when you are eating delicious food with fantastic company. I honestly couldn’t have hoped for anything more. It was definitely one of my favourite moments of the year.
After eating, prompted by our American friends, we “gave thanks” to all the things that we were thankful for. We basically just had to go around and all give a small speech about the stuff we are glad for in our lives. I was a little embarrassed to speak in front of everyone, but it was a nice way to compliment the food and the friends who made it, and some people made some really great speeches that were very heartwarming. After a few more drinks, we called it a night as we all had school the next day and had to get the last subway home. The night left me feeling a little groggy at school today, but I still have a big goofy smile on my face from being able to join in on such a special and memorable experience.