An Expat Thanksgiving

Jesse and I celebrated Thanksgiving by sleeping in and then lounging around watching movies and reading.  In the evening, I ventured out to Connections Coffeehouse to enjoy a piece of pumpkin pie, the Peanuts Thanksgiving episode, and some conversation.

I am thankful that our schools gave us the day off to celebrate an American holiday.

Although I enjoyed catching up on sleep and relaxing, knowing that Americans were enjoying the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and that our families were gathering in kitchens fragrant with holiday aromas left me feeling a little glum.

I am thankful for Skype, which allowed us to join our families while they ate their meal, even though an ocean and thousands of miles separate us.

As I sipped my coffee on Friday morning, I knew that in the U.S. some crazy Americans were awake in the middle of the night participating in a holiday shopping frenzy.  Black Friday never seemed so ludicrous until I tried to explain it to my high school students.  Only Americans would follow up a day dedicated to being thankful for what we have with a day dedicated to pursuing what we don’t have (and don’t really need).

I am thankful for the chance to teach in Hungary, and to gain a new perspective on what it means to be both an American and a global citizen.

I spent most of Friday content and busy in the kitchen, making cheddar biscuits, caramelized walnuts, and a potato curry.

Saturday morning, I tossed together a salad in preparation for a Thanksgiving celebration with our fellow American teachers.  As we headed out the door, Jesse and I were prepared to battle late buses and construction on the way to the train station.  We were not prepared to find ourselves locked in our own building.

About a month ago, the front door to our apartment was replaced.  We had been relying on the buzzer to let ourselves in, because we had no working keys to the gate, front door, or back door.  To our chagrin, the buzzer did not open the new door for a period of time.  Since then, we have had to resort to various tricks to gain access to our building, and we’ve been yelled at by our elderly neighbors for not using keys we don’t have.

Some days the buzzer works.

Some days the front door is unlocked.

Some days the front door is locked, but we can shake the back door until it opens.

Some days the back gate is off limits because the stairs are inexplicably torn up and re-concreted.

Some days the front door and the back door are both locked, but we make enough noise trying to force open the back door that our neighbor comes out, chastises us, and lets us in.

On Saturday morning, the front door was mysteriously locked from the inside, and the back door was bolted shut–ostensibly because it is broken and can’t be properly locked.  We were trapped inside our own building.  Thankfully, our next door neighbor was downstairs in his garage.  We asked him about the door.  Meanwhile, our ground floor neighbor heard our commotion (she always does) and came out to intervene.

After a conversation in broken Hungarian and a smattering of English, they finally let us out of the building.  They explained that we could acquire the new key from an elderly neighbor two buildings down.  We still made it to the bus stop with time to spare.

I am thankful that my experience in Hungary is teaching me patience, flexibility, and problem-solving skills. 

I am left puzzled by the psyche of retired Hungarians.  They seem intent on keeping their homes locked up tight, yet the neighborhood is extremely safe.  Who or what are they afraid of?  And how would anyone burst in to steal their possessions when they are almost always at home?  The result of their fear is perhaps that criminals are kept out, but also that their confused foreign neighbors are kept in.

(I remind myself that these retirees were probably born before or during WWII and lived most of their lives under Communism.  Undoubtedly they are still struggling to make sense of Hungary in the twenty-first century.)

In Kecskemét, we enjoyed a true Thanksgiving with over a dozen Americans, one Hungarian, and one German.  We swapped teaching stories, talked about home (at least five of us had Ohio connections), laughed, and stuffed ourselves.

I am thankful for the graciousness of our hosts in opening up their home and bringing the American teachers together.  I am thankful for the bounty that we shared. 


Filed under Holidays

2 responses to “An Expat Thanksgiving

  1. So perfectly stated….. “Only Americans would follow up a day dedicated to being thankful for what we have with a day dedicated to pursuing what we don’t have (and don’t really need).”

    I, too, struggled with explaining Black Friday to students and coworkers. I was met with some “understanding” based on how Hungarians will flock to a store’s grand opening, but clearly Black Friday is so much more ridiculous than that. It was largely embarrassing to explain to people, and then I found myself reading facebook updates about how people had been shopping for 12 hours and were going out for more. Good grief.

    • The news stories about violence (it always seems to happen at WalMart. . .) are particularly disturbing. I’ve been shopping on the day after Thanksgiving before, but it just seems that we are all playing into the hands of the big box stores by buying into their tricks!

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