This Thanksgiving will be my eighth here in the New World. I am often asked, “How do you and your family in England celebrate Thanksgiving?”. At first I was a little insulted that they evidently didn’t know much about my country. But then I unclenched and started to respond along the following lines, “Well we were so pleased you left. And not only that, but the natives fed you so you didn’t have to come back! Therefore we drink and are merry because we are so thankful for your ancestors’ relocation.” At this point, most realise their mistake. Then laugh. And then we move on. But recently my response has changed. Believe me, I love being dry and mocking people (I am English after all!!) but as an immigrant myself, I can relate to the early pilgrims.
On August 6th 2007, I stepped aboard a Virgin Atlantic flight from Heathrow to JFK. Now I understand that a Virgin flight is far more luxurious than the Mayflower (I don’t think they had inflight movies and free Baileys back in the 1600s), but like the pilgrims I walked away from my loved ones, my career, my culture and my comfort to seek out a new and better life.
My first night was spent on the floor at JFK. That was such fun! I had never been to the USA in my life and there I am sleeping in ten minute intervals on a hard floor with one of those complimentary thin airline blankets. Ooo buckets of fun! I finally arrived the following morning, August 8th, at Norfolk airport, Virginia. I spent the next few weeks in a haze. As the dream of life in the New World subsided, the reality of moving to a new country, new climate and new culture set in. It was hard. But like the first pilgrims, I stuck with it.
And I was welcomed by the natives. Over the years I have been embraced by amazing people and families. Like the immigrants in the seventeenth century, I have sat around the table of some of the kindest, most hospitable locals. This has changed me. When you are a newbie immigrant, you are always aware that you don’t fit in. It doesn’t take much to remind you that that this is not your land and you have no right to be here. Visas were a drama and a half to sort. For months Wal-Mart scared me, and I even cried in the cereal aisle because I was so overwhelmed by all the sugar in this land!! I wanted Weetabix and Alpen – nothing fancy. Instead I saw a row of brightly colored ‘loops’. Oh and spelling. Seriously, this country cuts ‘U’ from colour and favourite and woe betide any person who uses ‘S’ in realise!
But over time, I have acclimatized. Six lane roads no longer scare me. I realise asking someone if they want a brew is offering beer, not tea. Also never EVER ask an American if you could use their rubber. In the US, this has nothing to do with removing pencil from paper!! I have learned from the natives. I know how to navigate people and places, because I have been welcomed, included and supported.
I am now married to one of the locals (does that make him my Pocahontas???) and now we are beginning our own family traditions. And as our family grows, I want our family to know the history of Thanksgiving. I want them to learn about the pilgrims and the natives. I want them to watch the Macy’s Parade on Thanksgiving morning and feast on turkey. I don’t want to be sarcastic and say the Brits were pleased to get rid of the pilgrims, because really, I am so pleased that I have been welcomed. I want our family to know that hospitality is at the heart of Thanksgiving. Welcoming. Including. Supporting. So like the pilgrims of the 1600s, I am thankful. Only my shoes are nicer, and I don’t have to wear those hats!