Thanksgiving is an important holiday for Americans, but someone coming in from outside the country may not be acquainted with all the traditions.
Lana McGrady found herself in that predicament when she first came to the U.S. from Moldova 23 years ago with her son, Steven, in tow. She didn’t expect things to be so different — and she knew even less about local traditions in the South.
“I was surprised that everything was so darn sweet.” She said. “Everything was sugar, sugar, sugar.”
She laughed, fondly recalling that her dish of chicken and rice wasn’t quite as appreciated as she’d hoped it would be.
There were some dishes that turned out to be pretty tasty.
Lana said she found out that she really liked cranberries and learned to cook them from scratch.
Small town America was not the same as she had seen in movie accounts of American life that were set mostly in places like L.A. or New York. “I thought everyone looked like (super model) Claudia Schiffer.” she said.
She arrived in East Tennessee in September, 1995. Little did she know, Thanksgiving was right around the corner. It was an experience she wasn’t exactly ready for.
“I was definitely a newcomer, fresh from the boat.” She reflected on her first experiences in her new country.
When Lana was “volunteered” to host Thanksgiving at her house — the first American holiday she experienced – she assumed everyone was aware of the proper etiquette. In Russia, when a hostess sets the meal for a certain time, guests know to arrive about half an hour late, to give her time to finish up and have everything on the table. Her American guests decided to arrive fifteen minutes early and found her still in her pj’s, in the kitchen peeling potatoes.
“I thought I still had forty-five minutes (to get everything ready)!” In Russia, early arrival is considered rude, she said with a smile. But she took it all in stride, realizing she and her new family all had a lot to learn about each other.
The traditional Thanksgiving decorations and food were things she remembered thinking, at the time, were a bit odd.
“I saw all the pumpkin decorations and that was weird.” In her mind, pumpkins were meant to be eaten — not used to decorate porches and tables.
“I tried to rescue some pumpkins.” Saving pumpkins from the trash pile, didn’t turn out as expected. She found out they weren’t too good to eat after sitting outside in a fall scene for a month.
Lana also decided to put her own spin on the Thanksgiving meal with a different featured bird. “Turkey didn’t fly well with me and I fixed ‘Baby Turkey’.” “Baby Turkey” is a chicken baked in the oven just like you would prepare the traditional bird normally used for the feast.
The food and decorations were not the only things that proved to be foreign to her.
The holiday conversation at her first Thanksgiving table was not quite the same as what she had been used to in her homeland, and there was no “toast” to kick off the meal. Instead of discussing world events, the popular topics around the table were football and Black Friday shopping.
Lana happily discovered ways in which the two cultures were alike, like the sense of community and neighbors taking care of neighbors. Now, her mother and sister get to visit from time to time and she’s been able to share some new experiences with them.
Now she enjoys hosting her own gatherings with friends and family seated around the table to enjoy both Russian and American dishes, and good conversation about world events, shopping, and maybe even a little about football.