Thanksgiving Amsterdam

November 28, 2013

Today is the first day since many years that I walk around without the forecast of a portion of the veggie version of the traditional Thanksgiving turkey. My American aunt who has lived in Amsterdam for more years than she did before in the US, always was so kind to throw an elaborate dinner party, inviting a lot of people, including myself, her fellow American Amsterdam citizen. Most of those times I sat at the table, rejoicing my choice of not eating meat, munching away some tofu delight or a dashy abundance of vegetables to make up for the lack of a dead animal the others were given, and on rare occasions I suffered from a subtle feeling of regret. And of course I sinned sporadically, tearing off a little slice of beef, pretending to be fully engaged in the topics tossed around the table, born from the idea of sharing warm respects towards whoever was sitting there that evening.

I will not get into the historical, political, socio- or theological of it all. Of course it is a real faux pas to celebrate the killing of native Americans, taking their land, putting them in reservations and turning a substantial lot of them into alcoholics, robbing their children blind of any chance of a decent future. This is just one version of the story, my friends, and I am not being fair by leaving out the sources of this paraphrase of a quote of some saying flying around on many a street oversees in the land of the free. For some reason I don’t feel I need to. It has been done too many times, ridiculed by many in films and books, pamplets and lectures. For me, being this strange representative of the American people, holding on to my passport while living here for over forty years, it is the most normal thing in the world to have never cooked a thanksgiving dinner in my life. I live here, in Amsterdam. My aunt has left the city for a while, for journalistic research in the US. This afternoon I planned a Skype call with a few relatives of mine, who will be gathered around the dinner table. It is funny because I have done the phone conservation thing before, let’s say it is a tradition going on for many years. Someone over there will ask me where I am going to for Thanksgiving, another will remind of the Dutch version of this strange feast, incorporating folklore and slavery, abundance and pioneering, patriotism and generosity. I used to say something about this resemblance with ‘Sinterklaas’ and his Black Petes, but I am pretty sure I don’t have to do this anymore.

There has always been genuine outrage on the Dutch side about Americans and their silly, superficial traditions, and you know, to a certain extent, I kind of understand Dutch people when they smirk and giggle about many American habits. But somehow I feel that there’s more to it than just a friendly attempt at being foe. The Dutch have a wonderful expression: ‘High trees catch a lot of wind.’
And I suppose the lack of modesty of any kind on the account of the US created a large sign hanging in those trees, inviting others to spray-paint on it anything they want. Not an easy topic these days, with the news on spies and other unexpected flies on the wall. Why bring this up today then? Just for the same reason people bring up their past, in the shape of an uncle who was not on the right side of the left during some war. I have always felt caught in the middle, moving to the Netherlands at the age of seven, catching up with the Dutch way of life, enjoying this enormously. By finding my way back home, step by step, feeling a bit more connected to the country where I came from, I need to see the good in the bad, the beautiful in the ugly, I guess. Happy thanksgiving to you all. Yes, I know. This is a typical American thing to say, but I am not so sorry for saying it this time.