I witnessed the same result each time. The sleepy students would look around at each other with a mix of confusion and concern on their faces. First, I think they were worried they forgot about a test or homework assignment. Then, I bet they thought I had told them to remember something special and they hadn’t. Finally, they just realized they had no idea.
A little disappointed, I’d prompt them with something like, “It’s a special day today. Why?”
Confusion turned to excitement and hopefulness. Someone would eagerly ask if it was my birthday and the joy would spread like a wave through the room. Feeling like the Grinch stealing my own birthday, I’d tell them that that wasn’t it.
Now sort of frustrated, I’d happily announce, “It’s Thanksgiving!”
Some students would have that relieved look of finally understanding, while others would quickly ask their classmates, in nervous whispers, what Thanksgiving means. I guess there’s a Hungarian word for it. I don’t know how well it translates since the holiday doesn’t exist here.
The older students have had American teachers before, so they already had some knowledge of Thanksgiving. This meant they would occasionally remember it was Thanksgiving, and it wasn’t such a mysterious announcement. Sometimes it was actually met with groans and eye-rolling. In case you’re wondering, the answer is “yes” - tracing your hand, making it into a turkey, and writing what you’re thankful for is an activity that has made it to Hungary. And for your second question, yes, the kids here think it’s stupid too.
Trying to avoid obnoxious turkey making tasks, I focused on more important things. I explained food. Unfortunately, I’ve come to accept a very troubling fact: I don’t know how to cook Thanksgiving food. My expertise seems to be limited to watching football until my mom yells at me to set the table.
Now, try to explain what gravy is when you don’t know how to make it. It’s brown, it’s a sauce, it’s salty, and it’s delicious on potatoes and turkey. But what is it? Who knows. I know it has ingredients – Mom would make me go to the store to get anything that it was missing – I just don’t know what they are. Neither do my students.
I had the same gravy problem last year, and you’d think that I would’ve looked it up. No, I didn’t. I usually learn from my mistakes, but not this time. If I’m still teaching in Hungary at Thanksgiving next year, someone send me a gravy recipe the week before so I can show the kids.
Another interesting one was pumpkin pie. Pie was a short explanation, and pumpkins only took slightly longer. The tough part was convincing them that it’s good. They thought it sounded, in short, disgusting. I tried to use the reasoning that it has plenty of spices to make it taste just like Fall, but they weren’t buying it. It would’ve been much more convincing if I actually knew what those spices were.
After school, there was no feast. My family called me on Skype to show off what they were making, and I was having a bowl of cereal. It seemed to be a similar story for most of my American friends here.
Since there’s a fairly large group of American teachers here in Budapest, we decided to get together for a Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday. My apartment was volunteered to act as part of the host because I live right next door to another girl who has a really big apartment. That gave us one giant apartment and two ovens.
The party went fairly well. Some positive aspects were that people cooked food, and I didn’t have to go far to eat it. The only time I left was to run to the store to pick up some missing ingredients (a Thanksgiving talent I’ve been practicing for years) which turned into a brief detour to a Belgian fry stand. The others weren’t happy about the length of time our trip took, but I now think that Belgian fries should be added to all American Thanksgiving celebrations in Hungary. How’s that for an international feast?
Unfortunately, there were a few negative aspects of hosting the party. For instance, my apartment still smells (a smell that was nice at first, but has grown old), and the counters still have turkey grease all over them. The fridge is also full of leftovers, but it has grown to hold a mysterious smell. Maybe we should change the name to Smellsgiving.
At home, this isn’t a holiday that I really care about. I thought it was boring for most of my life, and then I moved out of my parents house to go to school, and I got hungry. Those breaks from college to eat big, home-cooked meals were amazing, and I’ve since liked it. However, I think the biggest thing about Thanksgiving is being with your family. That’s the key aspect of the holiday, and no matter how hard you try, it’s not a success without it. Even if you have Belgian fries.
I’ll leave you with a final story from the actual day of Thanksgiving, when I was teaching. The highlight was when one of the 9th grade students ran up to me very excited and started asking, “Alex, Alex, will you eat a peacock today?” That’s an impressive bird to know, even if it’s not quite the right one.
But, if I’m adding Belgian fries to the menu, who’s to say that peacock doesn’t have a place?
Hungarian word of the day:
Pronounced Pooy-caw, this word means “turkey” (the bird, not the country - that’s Törökország). I didn’t think we were going to, but we managed to get one and cook it on Saturday (we Hungarianized it by putting some paprika on it). Shockingly enough, it managed to fit in my oven. I’m thankful for that. I’ll be much more thankful when it’s grease isn’t still coating my kitchen.