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An Englishman Explains Thanksgiving to Americans

"I can't believe you actually say what you are thankful for. That's the most saccharine American shit I've ever heard in my life.​"

by Zach Sokol
Nov 23 2015, 9:20pm

Some aspects of culture cross the ocean between the US and the UK with ease—Islamophobia, for instance. But there's plenty that gets lost in translation on its way across the Atlantic. I'm never going to really, truly understand Guy Fawkes Day, cheeky Nando's, or Dapper Laughs; and my colleagues over at VICE UK will probably never understand American football, Thanksgiving, or why so many people own guns here.

Most Brits don't much care about handegg and are horrified by our lax firearm laws, but I realized recently I had no idea what they thought of turkey day. So I called up VICE UK staff writer Joel Golby, a man so British he once wrote a five-year retrospective of that "Being a Dickhead's Cool" song. Here's what he thought of Thanksgiving:

VICE: Have you ever experienced American Thanksgiving?
Joel Golby: I have experienced American Thanksgiving three ways:

  1. I once watched the Thanksgiving episode of popular friendship-based TV show Friends.
  2. An American lady brought pumpkin pie in to the office once and it was the most delicious thing I ever ate.
  3. I once went to a flatshare and ate something that was like mashed sweet potato with marshmallows and Jack Daniels out of the fridge? What the fuck was that garbage?

When you think of the holiday, what comes to mind?
The first thing is you have it on a Thursday, which I respect. Thanksgiving, as best I can tell, is an elaborate scam to turn a normal weekend into a four-day weekend. Am I right? You take the Thursday off. You go beat the living hell out of each other at Walmart on the Friday. Saturday is just turkey sandwiches and watching NFL games on the TV. [Editor's note: NFL games are on Sunday, college football happens on Saturday—told you they didn't get football.] Sunday is just Sunday. Then you go back to work all refreshed. That's what you're really thankful for.

What do I think of the actual day? It's a big meal that your family travels across the country to bicker over, and it is mainly turkey and sweet potato mash and vegetables, and so I mean basically is it really that different from Christmas? I don't get it. You have a roast with your family and then go aggressively shopping the next day. How is that different from Christmas?

Read: We Asked the European VICE Offices What Refugees Should Expect in Their Countries

Would you like to celebrate an American Thanksgiving? What would the ideal scenario be like?
Yes, I would. It would go like this: A friend invites me to their house and cooks for me while I drink an American beer. The beer is cold and tall. A Bud Light, probably. I crack the beer and watch sports. I am given delicious food. Nobody is allowed to invite their family because family always ends in arguments. Nobody is allowed to audibly mention God. I am allowed to snooze on the sofa for the subsequent eight to ten days. I am given an entire pumpkin pie to take home with me.

"I can't believe you actually say what you are thankful for. That's the most saccharine American shit I've ever heard in my life."

How do you think reality would compare to this fantasy?
I mean this is the thing, right, because my best Christmases were always ruined by other people, and I figure this is the same with Thanksgiving. Like your mum [Editor's note: British for "mom"] has invited you around for Thanksgiving, but also like 20 other people. Racist cousins. Loud drunk uncles. That weird silent girlfriend of your weird younger brother. And that never works over a table heaving with food and where alcohol is served. Nervous smalltalk always gives way to racist ranting—always. Or someone's grandma is there and she has somehow lived for 80 years without hearing a swear. You say "fuck" and she is like, "Oh my goodness" and literally dies. Also, the bit with the actual giving of thanks: Do you do that? You go around the table and do that? Surely the food gets cold? Nah. Fuck that. Fuck Thanksgiving.


When Americans celebrate Thanksgiving, what are the British doing? Are you guys jealous of us?
We do nothing. And yes. Although because you're all hanging around giving thanks, at least Twitter is always nicely quiet on actual Thanksgiving. At least there's that.

Since we're talking, can you tell me what Guy Fawkes Day is how you celebrate it?
I don't really know why we still celebrate the time Guy Fawkes tried to explode the government. I mean, in a way, it's like having a children's party to celebrate an act of terrorism, but I don't know, history I guess.

Bonfire Night is a very cozy holiday. Basically kids go and put their winter coats on and wear mittens and play with sparklers in the garden, then go to a municipal park and watch some fireworks go off and look at a bonfire, and then go home. There are other things they can do—traditionally, kids made a straw Guy and would lug it door-to-door asking their neighbors for money for the Guy before burning it on a fire, and—holy shit I've only just realized how weird that is while typing it out. That is fucking weird. Nobody does that anymore.

In more old-school towns—the best one is Lewes—people go fucking crazy for Bonfire Night, dressing up and burning stuff down and firing fireworks at each other and guzzling baked nuts. But most people just stand in drizzle and watch fireworks and go home.

Anyway, it all happens in the evening so it's not worth a day off. It's not a real holiday at all. Just a thing we do.

If the British were to celebrate Thanksgiving, what would that look like?
The only things British people like to eat are roast dinners (roast meat, gravy, cabbage, roast potatoes, roast vegetables, mash, gravy, Yorkshire puddings, gravy, gravy, mash) and full English breakfast (beans, sausages, egg, bacon, maybe chips, fried bread, black pudding, fried mushrooms, grilled tomato). So, logically, if we had Thanksgiving we would have a mash-up of the two. Like a beef joint wrapped around some sausages and baked. Beans in gravy. Potatoes on toast. Mad shit like that. For pudding: a single Penguin biscuit.

What are you thankful for this year, Joel?
I can't believe you actually say what you are thankful for. That's the most saccharine American shit I've ever heard in my life. I honestly think I am too British to answer that question.

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