It was my first Thanksgiving. I knew very little about this holiday of gastronomic delights. I got invited by a coworker to join his family. My knowledge about the local culture at the time was as microscopic as the turkey’s ambition to be part of this event.
Growing up, I watched many stereotypical American movies showing the traditional Thanksgiving: the family reunion, a big golden turkey on a silver platter at the center of the enormous table, endless side dishes, plates so full you can’t even see who’s behind them, and of course, some juicy drama among the relatives.
I guess I never really cared about Thanksgiving that much, nor understood its significance...
Fast forward a few fun-filled years. I’m living in beautiful Virginia. In fact, this is my first week here; it wasn’t until I was in the plane moving here that I realized: “Hol’ up, I’ve never been there before.”
I get there a few weeks before Thanksgiving and I was finally getting settled in.
My coworker, Jason, in all his kindness, invited me to join this festive moment with his hospitable family at his welcoming home.
In preparation for the big night, you’d think I would have done a little research before going in, right? But no! In my head, I was sure it was just like Christmas dinner in Brazil, with family and friends.
Allow me to digress...
I wish there was such a thing as The Social Protocol Book. Let’s say you are changing countries, like I was, and want to know the do’s and don’ts… Like, why is it wrong to eat pizza with a fork and knife? Or, why does it feel weird to order coffee at the end of dinner?
Whoever comes up with such a solution will make Elon Musk’s fortune look like pennies. World peace will be easily achieved. And I will never feel judged again when I’m at Pizza Hut asking for utensils.
Back to my coworker’s house. I show up on time; which can be hard if you follow The Brazilian Timezone - it took me years to adjust my running-late-tolerance, from one hour to ten minutes at most.
I’m greeted by my coworker and his family. He introduces me to his wife, sister and mom; now, when it comes to greetings in Brazil, the cheek kiss is traditional when men meet women.
My inner Brazilian promptly kicks in, and before I can give a second thought, I give a cheek kiss to every single member of his family, that I just met five seconds ago, in front of him.
During dinner, along with the traditional turkey and the suspicious awkwardness, we are having meatloaf. Which reminded me that in Portuguese dubbed movies, “meatloaf” gets poorly translated to “meat cake” and I never understood: “Why would someone make a cake out of meat?” I was about to find out...
I didn’t even realize what I had done until dinner was over. It was only when I was walking to my car, with Tupperware loaded with leftover food, that I received a text from my coworker:
“Yo, did you kiss my sister on the cheek? She thought it was exotic. Lol.”
Thinking of all the possible outcomes, ‘exotic’ is not bad. In fact, I can take ‘exotic’ any day.
Jason and I would go on to have many more adventures, some in Brazil as well, that I hope to write about in the future.
Looking back, that little moment taught me a lot about understanding different cultures and practicing tolerance with people who are still getting used to a new one.
The meatloaf? Amazing, 10/10 would have it again.
But now that we are done with it, can I have a fork please? My pizza is getting cold.