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.
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?
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.