Thanksgiving Turkey and Pumpkin Pie: American Cultural Imperialism?

I hope American readers had a great Thanksgiving celebration yesterday; over here, it was a regular workday, of course, like any other.  It’s not part of British tradition to go “over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house” for a turkey dinner.  Nor do they shout “Hurrah for the pumpkin pie!”—okay, Americans don’t either, except in the over-the-river-and-through-the-woods song, but pumpkin pie is almost unknown here.  Happily for me, that’s changing. It’s getting easier to find Libby’s canned pumpkin nowadays, although it’s only available seasonally, and you have to find a store with a section of American imports, but when I first moved to Britain, I couldn’t get pumpkin at all.  And what’s Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie?  I think that’s more important than the turkey.

A wild turkey does his courtship display on the grounds of Ash Canyon B and B, which my friend Mary Jo Ballator manages as a wildlife and bird sanctuary. This species is the Gould Turkey, which is common in the Huachuca Mountains of SE Arizona. Photo courtesy of Ash Canyon B&B —

My November column for the Guildford Dragon NEWS was about Thanksgiving and turkeys, as it happens, and featured one British person who does seem to ‘get’ Thanksgiving: Surrey turkey farmer Derek Joy.  His big market is Christmas, because that’s when the British traditionally eat turkey, but he told me he sells a lot more Thanksgiving turkeys than you might suppose—about a third as many as he sells for Christmas.

I’m learning, in writing columns for the Dragon NEWS, how different it is to write for a primarily British audience rather than a primarily American one.  I recycled an anecdote  from last Thanksgiving’s blog post  for the opening of that NEWS column, and had to make some interesting changes.  For American readers, I just reported a conversation between two “British TV personalities” about what Thanksgiving dinner is; for British readers I can say who the “personalities” were, which brings in all the overtones and implications of those personalities’, er…personalities.  British readers can be amused that it was Carol Vorderman who came out with wrong information, because she’s a game-show host and a sort of professional know-it-all (UK: know-all), whereas American readers would just say “Who?”  And British readers wouldn’t bat an eye to hear that Vorderman said that Americans eat chipolatas for Thanksgiving.  For all they know, it’s true; for Americans, that’s the punchline.  She thinks we serve turkey and chipolatas?  What the heck is a chipolata?

Another handsome turkey (or is it the same one? I can’t tell) poses for the benefit of potential mates. Photo courtesy of Ash Canyon B and B —

Most British people don’t really seem to understand Thanksgiving—and of course there’s no reason for them to keep up with the festivals of other countries—so I was surprised to learn from Derek Joy that British interest in Thanksgiving is growing (the Dragon NEWS column has a bit more info).  So far, celebrating Thanksgiving hasn’t caught on in Britain to the point that it sparks the kind of pushback there is against trick-or-treating, which is seen by a number of people here as a nasty habit being imposed on Britain by American imperialists bent on cultural domination.  Er, no.  Americans do not care one bit whether British kids go trick-or-treating.

I suppose if enough British people ever become interested in Thanksgiving, that could start to rankle, too.  As of the last census, there were about 160,000 American-born people living in the UK, out of a total population of over 62,000,000. So I think we’re safe for a while yet.

Of course, if there is a secret plan to take over UK culture, one American-imposed holiday at a time, Mr Joy might be part of the advance party, and those cans of Libby’s pumpkin might be the thin end of the dastardly Thanksgiving wedge.



Filed under Culture, Food

5 responses to “Thanksgiving Turkey and Pumpkin Pie: American Cultural Imperialism?

  1. Malcolm

    We’re lucky here in the heart of Ireland. Not only are we more receptive to American ways in general but we (in particular) have both American and Canadian friends so we get two, slightly different, Thanksgivings each year. Melting marshmallows anyone?

  2. Candida

    My first thought was it would seem very weird for us Brits to start celebrating Thanksgiving, as if somehow the whole Independence thing had never happened. But then, my kids have drawn rangoli patterns on the playground and taken in sweets for Ganesh at Diwali, made dragon masks for Chinese New Year, and we’ve just spent the summer hosting a recreation of an ancient Greek festival, so why not? Any excuse for a party. And I’m quite chuffed to see the Black Friday sales appearing in online shops in the UK, even if most of us are bemused by their existence.
    Trick or treating, on the other hand, IS a nasty habit, though as far as I can tell it’s being imposed on us by confectionery companies and the makers of tacky plastic vaguely-pumpkin-shaped buckets, enthusiastically aided and abetted by Tesco et al. Commercial imperialism, rather than cultural, I think.

  3. Sharon Minsuk

    Wow, I had no idea… how poor my knowledge of Thanksgiving was. Over the river? I thought it was a Christmas song! (The Wikipedia article explains why. I can be forgiven, I think… And now that I see the lyrics, I realize they’re mostly unfamiliar to me. I guess I only knew the first line! (Which as far as I knew, referred to Grandmother, not Grandfather!)

    And if you had asked me, I would have said with confidence that Thanksgiving was on the 2nd-to-last Thursday of November. I have no clue where I got that idea! At one time (decades before I was born), it used to be on the last Thursday, so maybe something got garbled by my parents’ generation. Sometimes by coincidence (like this year) it does come out 2nd-to-last.

    Hey, what’s that sideways reference to possessive apostrophes about? Is that how they do it over there?

    Well, thank you for an interesting couple of articles (I enjoyed the Dragon NEWS one, too), and the hour or so excursion into Wikipedia it set me off on (from song lyrics to Thanksgiving details and regional variations to Canadian Thanksgiving to United Empire Loyalists… learned a lot this morning!)

    Happy Thanksgiving and enjoy your pumpkin pie! (Which incidentally I don’t remember ever eating as a child, and which I’ve only gradually warmed up to over the years as an adult.)

    • Oops — it isn’t meant to be about possessive apostrophes. I meant it as a sort of apology for writing a sentence that says pretty much “These TV personalities who are real personalities, and are personalities who have personalities.” (Sings: People…people who need people…) A repetitive construction that I left in because I thought it somewhat amusing. I could be wrong about that!

      • Sharon Minsuk

        Oh I get it. D’oh! The “er” distracted me from the sentence structure. Thought you were making a U.S. vs. U.K. comparison! Now that I get it, yes it’s somewhat amusing. 😉

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