GW Expat: An un-American Thanksgiving

VIENNA, Austria

“This is the first Thanksgiving we all aren’t in New Jersey.”

I suppose this obvious fact had not quite hit me until my brother pointed it out. For the past two years my brother and I would drive up from D.C. to New Jersey to be with our family for Thanksgiving.

Coming from a huge Greek family, there is a great emphasis on family and togetherness, especially around the holidays. My missing out on Thanksgiving originally seemed catastrophic.

“I will not be waking up to my mom’s pancakes. I won’t be able to sit at my kitchen table all morning watching the parade in my pajamas,” I thought to myself with a sad, panic-stricken look on my face.

My mild case of homesickness was short-lived as I decided I had the power to turn this sad reality into a fantastic opportunity. I decided I was going to provide a home-cooked Thanksgiving meal for all my American friends in Vienna who were going to be away from their families on Thanksgiving.

One by one the guest list grew for my Thanksgiving feast to 16. On the Wednesday evening before Thanksgiving, the whole bunch of us piled into my rather large, yet old, apartment in the 18th district of Vienna.

Finding a turkey large enough for 16 hungry college students was impossible here. Austria just did not have the same oversized, hormone-altered turkeys that we have in the States. Go figure.

What I did find were precut turkey schnitzels! For those of you who are not familiar with Austrian cuisine, a typical dish is the Weinerschnitzel – a basic veal culet that has been breaded and fried in a pan. Well, I must say, I got creative and made turkey schnitzels, bringing together the traditions of both America and Austria!

All of my friends contributed to the meal. Some brought wine and cheese for hors d’oeuvres, while others brought everything from baked ziti to several types of potatoes: roasted, mashed and, my personal favorite, sweet potatoes.

My boyfriend came to visit from the U.S. and was able to provide us with some necessary Thanksgiving items. He smuggled over some instant Stove-Top Stuffing and cranberry sauce – yum! For dessert my two good friends, Sam and Kelsey, made pumpkin pie, cherry pie, chocolate walnut pie and an apple crumble from scratch.

While it was an enjoyable evening, after spending hours cleaning my kitchen, washing dishes and wrapping up stacks of leftovers, I looked forward to a trip to Florence.

I arrived in Florence on Thanksgiving Day. I was immediately taken aback by the carefree atmosphere of Tuscany. I could not wait to indulge myself with an enormous plate of pasta, a delicious glass of wine and some tiramisu.

My tranquil Tuscan experience was semi-interrupted by the bold sign posted directly next to my quaint outdoor table at a classic Florence restaurant.

“Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner Tonight,” the sign read.

It was unavoidable; my boyfriend and I had to laugh. Here we were trying to experience Florence and all it had to offer, especially the food. Instead we were surrounded by native Italians eating turkey and cranberry sauce.

Hearing our American accents, the waiter immediately assumed we would want a “taste of home.” Without even the slightest hesitation, my boyfriend and I said, “Absolutely not!” After all the work I had put into organizing a Thanksgiving dinner the night before, I did not want to look at another potato for a while.

Our waiter did not mind our unintentional rudeness and actually treated us to a free cocktail at the end of our meal. The staff was continuously wishing us a “very happy Thanksgiving.”

I never expected to feel so at home in such a foreign location. n

-Megan Marinos is a junior majoring in communication and international affairs. She is studying in Vienna.

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