I’ll be having a different sort of Thanksgiving this year. The restaurant in our compound, which typically does a themed buffet on Thursday nights (“Italian night!” “Indian night!” or the perennial dude favorite, “Carvery night!”), is giving a nod to the Americans by doing a Thanksgiving dinner this week. Butterball turkeys are thawing as we speak. Roasted and mashed potatoes are promised, and pumpkin pie. The restaurant staff is Indian, so if stuffing does appear I’ll be interested in the seasoning. We’ll be dining with other Americans who live here, and have spread the word to friends from outside the compound to join us. Right now, it’s looking like a group of about 50, including a fair sprinkling of non-Americans probably a bit baffled by a major American holiday built around everybody’s least-favorite poultry.
So in honor of this uniquely American holiday, I thought it would be good to take a moment to reflect on the uniquely American things I’m thankful for.
110v wiring: This one is huge. Because it’s small. I LOVE American outlets, mounted discretely flush into the wall, and appliances with their dainty little plugs that won’t break a window if your whip-action gets a little aggressive when you’re wrapping up a cord. With 110 you get plugs the size of a cat’s paw instead of a Labrador’s, so you can have things like string-to-string Christmas lights. Extension cords cost $5 and can tuck their thin little way into crevices and corners. That’s notable because here a 3-meter extension cord costs $15 and you could use it to tow a truck. The multi-head cap at the end looks like a cricket bat. In American you can buy a shy little octopus that turns a single outlet into three without bothering its neighbor or intruding into the room. Genius! Oh! And the grounded outlets in bathrooms! What bliss! You can operate a blow dryer in front of a mirror. What a thought! In the magic land of America, you buy a thing, you plug it into the wall. Done. No adapters, no squinting at the UL micro-print to figure out whether you need one, no wondering whether this outlet works for that or whether the handmade label on a particular outlet is telling you the truth about what kind of a zap is waiting on the other side. (I saw a bank of labeled outlets in a friend’s house recently with one marked “127v.” What?) The American power grid may be ancient and decaying, but doggone it, I can put a lamp where I want. With a switch on the lamp instead of the cord. Thanks, guys.
Lines: Oh, that docile American willingness to wait in line. We learn that one early, right? I certainly remember the kind of hell that would rain down on a first-grader accused by his or her peers of cutting in line. Didn’t matter what we were waiting for. We could be going out to recess, but at some unspoken but universally recognized moment the melee for the door would turn into a line, and anyone accused of cutting at that point would be vilified. Saudi Arabia is not unique in being an every-man-for-himself culture, and as a rule-following, contention-averse American female, I appreciate those American checkout lines and offramp queues. There’s still plenty of jostling and cheating for sure, but in general, it works pretty well. Thanks, Lord of the Flies self-policing American school system, for getting that one right.
Wrinkle-free cotton: I may be out on a washline by myself on this one. I can’t say for sure if this is an American thing. It may just be me (most likely), or my generation, or that breezy California style I grew up with, but it sure seems like the English-speakers with accents much prettier than mine do a lot of ironing. Around here the universally understood reason for being unable to stay any longer at lunch or go on some outing is “I have a lot of ironing to do.” And the involved parties all just nod their heads. Been there, too, mate. You have? Does the pronunciation of a hard “r” make one more content to smooth out a t-shirt with a few spritzes of water? Or harem-scarem enough to say, “Oops. Wrinkled. I’ll just press these pants really quick”? I can’t say I’ve run up against people mentioning “ironing” as an agenda item in the States. Good thing. Because if you’re all out there routinely setting up for an afternoon of ironing I’d just as soon not know about it. I’d keep on doing exactly the same lazy thing, mind you, but I’d have one more reason to think I do a uniquely poor job of looking after myself.
Return policies: I recently came across a website where foreigners living in the U.S. contributed lists of things about America they have difficulty explaining to their relatives back home. A recurring item on those lists was American retail return policies. And I love them. We recently bought an air bed (now open for visitors!), and asked the salesman what we could do if it didn’t inflate properly. “You can return for refund in two days!” he told us proudly. “Or exchange in seven!” He worked for a big-chain retailer, which is what made this boon of generosity possible. And let’s keep in mind that these policies are in place in a country where 50% of the adult population can’t drive and any outing is going to chew up half of an evening. Can’t get out within two days? Tough. Zappos, I love you. Target, I love you. And to the collective body of the American retail consumer, who would force the closure of a business with anything less than a 30-day, 100% refund policy, I love you best of all.
Holidays & three-day weekends: One thing that baffles foreigners about America is how ridiculously hard we work. More hours per week, fewer days of vacation, shorter lunches…we are seen as a nation of workaholics missing out on all the important things in life. Gotcha. Can’t argue. But boy, we sure know how to shave the edges off. Is there anything more savory than a three-day weekend? Lounging on a Sunday and knowing you’re not going to work the next day? Or perhaps counting down to a Friday off, where Monday is already Tuesday and the long weekend is only three more days away? A three-day weekend to start the summer, a three-day weekend to end it, a three- or four-day weekend in the middle. Halloween, which is a guaranteed playday no matter whether or not you’re at work, then the FOUR-DAY Thanksgiving holiday. After the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, there’s that tender-mercy January break with MLK Day, President’s Day in February, spring break just around the corner, and back to summer. I’ll take care of my own big vacations, but living where I keep having a little one just around the next corner makes the rhythm of a year, well, just delightful.
Thanksgiving: A holiday based on gratitude AND self-indulgence? Could anything be better? Probably not. I have a feeling those two things kind of need each other. The fact that every year Americans of all religious and cultural backgrounds spend the better part of a week traveling and shopping and cooking to come together for a single meal, based on food that we say we love, but don’t really want to eat any other time of year, says there’s more to this holiday than the food. A day of thanks. Thanks for the people you’re sitting with, thanks for all that makes it possible for everyone to be there, thanks for food and shelter, for the web of family and friends and community and country that gets us through, and thanks for the American story we all share. And perhaps what makes us cherish it so deeply is how good it feels to ignore our complaints and count our blessings. Pretty great excuse for a holiday, huh? And after dinner, while considering how content and satisfied you are and how great that pie is going to be, you the mixer plug a little kiss from me before you start whipping the cream.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.