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Surviving Thanksgiving as a foreigner

Thanksgiving is so American, it gives 4th July a run for its money.

It’s all about the foundation of America, eating WAAAAY more food than you should, and watching American football/football.

Oh, and it’s suuuper cheesy as it’s all about family and being thankful. This is too much emotion for me. Why do Americans want a holiday dedicated to talking about feelings and how much you appreciate your loved ones?

Surely the sheer number of sarcastic comments I hand out clearly expresses how much I care?

As a Brit who recently moved across the pond, the American-ness of Thanksgiving could have easily scared me off.  Instead, I embraced it and just about survived…

Research Thanksgiving

When I was asked by my husband if I would like to host and cook Thanksgiving this year my first thought was, BRING IT ON. My second was… HOW???

For the last 2 years, while dating in the UK, we marked Thanksgiving with a roast dinner in a quintessential British Pub. Because I LOVED making him learn all about British habits, especially during American holidays.

So it’s safe to say I’ve never celebrated it correctly. Let alone cooked a huge meal with a zillion different side dishes. Therefore extensive research into Thanksgiving was required.

Enter, Pinterest.

Thanksgiving decor

Honestly, Pinterest saved my life. After a few hours (days) of scrolling through, I am now a certified expert on America’s favorite Thanksgiving meals. I could even fill you in on the cool, hip, variations on grandma’s classics.

However, I did check with my husband what his family would normally have for Thanksgiving. Every family has its own unique traditions, I wanted to avoid missing a key dish and destroying my first Thanksgiving because I’m a Brit. (I was tempted…)

Give Thanksgiving your own twist

While I didn’t want to “ruin” Thanksgiving, I also wanted to put my own twist on it. I was cooking and queen of the kitchen for the day – what I say goes.

Thanksgiving is very similar to the Britsh Sunday Roast which we eat every Sunday – why confine yourself to one day a year?? These feats consist of meat, veggies and a bunch of carbs. In other words, heaven.

So for my first Thanksgiving, I made a few classic Thanksgiving dishes – turkey, sweet potato casserole, stuffing, apple pie, and snuck in a few British Sunday Roast sides like Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, and root pie.

This wondrous Britsh/American mash-up can only be described as extraordinary – just like David and I. (But mainly due to the British influence, let’s be real).

My first Thanksgiving meal before turning 25

(Also if you’re interested in hearing these British recipes let me know in the comments below and I’ll put something together specifically on this!!)

Double-check the American food translations

Once I had all the recipes organised, the next nightmare was finding the ingredients.

Seriously, this American English thing is really wasting my time.

I literally spent half an hour running around my local supermarket/grocery store in a mad panic trying to find double cream for one of the dishes I was making. Only to find out that it goes by another name in the States, Heavy Cream. WHY??

I think I’ll make a translation card to carry around I’m my bag 24/7 …

But if some foods have different names, others are impossible to find. And its pretty basic stuff we’d normally have in the UK. For another (British) side, I needed parsnips. My husband claimed they were yellow carrots here, they looked pretty similar so we got some.

They worked just fine, but “Yellow carrots” are NOT parsnips. They are literally yellow carrots. I am still on a quest to find parsnips. But perhaps, like good tea, they do not exist in America.


sweet potatoes

It’s not like I’m looking for some exotic fruit or super random foodstuff. I want cream and this simple root vegetable. They shouldn’t have different names and it shouldn’t be so hard to find basic ingredients.

If you have any ideas on how to restore the English language to its full glory across the Atlantic – ie, British English, please share your suggestions in the comments below.

The Thanksgiving Turkey Trot

It’s happened. I’ve married into a family that does 5ks during the holidays. A nightmare for most people. And honestly, I thought it was one of mine.

But on Thanksgiving morning I took part in my first Turkey Trot. And enjoyed it. (Who am I??)

How could I be that crazy you ask?

Well, it’s a great way to get up, see friends and family and run off some energy to make space for all the food later. But more importantly, the Turkey Trot involves dress up. So of course, I spent the week before Thanksgiving planning the most amazing Turkey costume in honour of this amazing event.

I covered myself in feathers and amazing turkey leg socks, with David in an inflatable Chef costume ready to chase us around the course…

Turkey Trot

I am pleased to announce we won “Best Costume”. That’s what really made it worth it.

Watch American Football/Football and nod along

So while I was doing the hard work to make a delicious meal, a certain member of the family (cough, cough, David) perched themselves on the sofa in front of endless American Football games.

As previously mentioned, American Football is a key aspect of Fall in the States. And it’s a key part of Thanksgiving. While someone is rushing about the kitchen everyone else is hiding in the lounge having been told to both help and GET OUT of the kitchen as its all “under control”.  

As I had everything “under control” in-between stuffing things in the oven and caramelising apples, I sat down and tried to get a better idea of what was going on.

A few hours later I was none the wiser.

American Football game

Having an oven buzzer go off every 5 mins probably didn’t help my situation – getting into American Football or just vaguely understanding it is going to need more dedicated concentration. For Thanksgiving, I was content dropping in every now and then to see what the score was and cheer randomly when the rest of the family started making noises.

Maybe my next new year’s resolution should be to understand American Football…

Enjoy it!!

Thanksgiving is a uniquely American Holiday. It’s a time for family and food. As a foreigner, this holiday could stress me out as there’s so much to do and prepare. And taking part in such a festive and nostalgic holiday could cause me to miss the family I’ve left behind or the food I remember from my childhood.

But as only Thanksgiving can, it made me thankful.

Thankful for the new family I’ve joined. Thankful for the opportunity to experience a different culture. And thankful for dating apps – without them none of this would have happened.


How was your Thanksgiving?? If you didn’t enjoy this year’s Thanksgiving as much as you could have, take a moment now to think about just one thing that made you smile on the day – if you’d like to, share it in the comments below.


  1. Kathleen Kiehn Kathleen Kiehn

    Hi, Not all the family celebrates in the traditional way. I always was the rebel and I guess I still am. My Mom (Aunt Alvera), and sister came to our house as did my Granddaughter her husband and my two Greatgrandsons (sorry my computer says I spelled this wrong one of my many faults, I have a Masters Degree and have never concurred my hopeless spelling) anyway Gary’s son and new girlfriend came and my Granddaughter’s inlaws so we had a house full. Everyone brought something so all Gary had to do was make the primerib and the potatoes. Notice no Turkey. No one likes it much so we have the rib instead. Mom makes the pumpkin pies. Gary’s always been the cook in our house. Notice no football. Mostly the guys don’t care. I personally am thrilled because I find the game tedious. We sit around talk tell jokes make fun of the whole business and have a good time. No one here runs anywhere. we’re all to lazy and just a bit woozy from the wine to run. You can find parsnips in the grocery store but they are hard to get don’t know why. Americans aren’t good about some root vegies. Turnips can be hard to fine, too. Parsnips are not yellow carrots, sorry David. Glad all turned out well. Happy late Thanksgiving! Take Care. Cousin Kathee

    • Ellen Ellen

      Haha, glad you hear you always make sure to celebrate it in your own way! Everyone has their own traditions, so it has been interesting to see the differences in each family and work out how we would like to celebrate it ourselves!

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