ViewPoint

Nov 20

Thanksgiving: An Australian’s Experience

By Will Smith

This Thanksgiving, we invited Will Smith, one of our V2 interns, to share his perspective on the upcoming American holiday.

When I moved to the United States four years ago, there were a lot of cultural differences to take in. From the school bus-sized trucks to the overwhelming fervor of a college campus, I constantly found myself adjusting to something new. As Autumn arrived and the temperature dropped, I started to hear more about one American staple in particular: Thanksgiving.

The concept, as my American friends relayed it to me, was simple enough to grasp: on Thanksgiving we give thanks. No kidding. I’ll have to thank my roommate for that gem. The next question he asked me, however, I had not considered:

“What are you doing for Thanksgiving?”

I was stumped. What does one actually do on thanksgiving? To my knowledge – which derived exclusively from films, television and remarks from professors and classmates – one travelled home, ate a horrifying amount of food and fought with their family. Not necessarily in that order. One particularly jaded peer described the holiday as Christmas or Hanukkah without presents. I was very grateful when my roommate invited me to join him and his family in Washington D.C. (just about as American as it gets) so I could find out for myself.

The day of Thanksgiving, my roommate’s parents greeted us at the airport with a big hug. Having never seen snow before in my life, the thick mounds on the side of the road made me feel like I was in another world. I was amazed to learn the number of relatives who were traveling from all over America to be together for what, on paper, simply seemed to be a shared meal. There must be a greater, more important reason the entire country stops and comes together?

Voices could be heard as we walked up to the house. Loud voices. Oh no, I thought, were they already fighting? Was there too much food? Not enough food? Did someone bring presents by mistake? I looked at my roommate and he grinned.

Inside I met more relatives than I could remember. Uncles, aunts, siblings, grandpas, grandmas, estranged cousins and, of course, dogs. Everywhere I looked I saw the warmth of smiles, heard the snorts of unbridled laughter, and felt the bond of a tight knit community.

I found myself absorbed in stories told throughout the evening — Grandpa Herb’s college football days from the 1960s, Uncle Chris’s restaurant venture out in San Francisco — and the family was as curious about my culture as I was theirs. I confirmed that we do not celebrate Thanksgiving, nor do we ride kangaroos to work in Australia. The latter was a point of some contention. We talked and laughed long into the night until our eyelids were heavy, and our belt buckles loosened. I arrived at the house a stranger and went to bed a friend.

It was clear to me that thanksgiving wasn’t about the food; it was about the people.

Now, for the fourth year in a row, I look forward to traveling back to D.C. for this special holiday. I am thankful for the family that welcomed me into their home and enabled me to experience the tradition that brings America together. Happy Thanksgiving!

Oh, and if you see an Australian wandering around in the cold, do me a favor and invite him in will you?

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