Muchas Gracias Merica

My Thanksgiving List from Abroad

I’ve never really been fond of sharing my Thanksgiving List. You know, those personal tidbits of gratitude that we all have and love to share around the dinner table with family and friends. When it comes to my list, I feel a bit like an American Idol contestant. I certainly think I have a lot to offer, but rarely have anything truly groundbreaking to contribute. I am thankful for my family. I am thankful for my friends. I am thankful for fuzzy blankets, glitter, ESPN.com, flip flops, and all the other things we can collectively agree make life awesome.

Now I am living abroad and it’s Thanksgiving Day, which, side note, is really not all that bad. It’s one thing to have an entire city shut down for their own local holiday. You often end up watching Netflix and eating candy bars because you have no idea what is going on and the creepy but friendly cashier at the convenient store is your only friend from the neighborhood. It’s another thing to celebrate your own holiday from overseas and the world around you is proceeding as usual. It’s kind of like having a second birthday. You wake up completely unapologetic about the fact you are going to be obnoxiously happy, unproductive, and likely to generate a bar tab you will regret the next day.

I am now two hours into my private Thanksgiving celebration in Spain and find I cannot avoid the natural temptation to be reflective on this day. Isn’t that the whole point? And as I reflect, I now see my world from the outside in. I am just two months removed from my life in America, and there are some surprising things I am ready to add to my list of things to be thankful for. Perhaps this is my Kelly Clarkson breakthrough moment. Simon Cowell, hold on to your hat. Here are a few things about America I have a newfound appreciation for:

Eating a ton may be a Thanksgiving tradition, but let’s face it, most of us practice for the big dance the other 364 days of the year. Yes, it makes us incredibly fat and chronically ill. No, most of us cannot afford health care to compensate for our downfall, but look at it this way. In Europe I’m technically paying the same prices for tiny coffees, entrees I can polish off in 5 minutes and sandwiches that look like they were made in a Barbie Dream House. From a value perspective, that makes no sense at all. This is why I avoid Starbucks in Spain. I’m pretty sure a truly American-sized, double shot extra large Frappuccino with whipped cream would cost me about $67. And that would be after I used a gift card.

No really — be as fake and bombastic as you want, my fellow awesome, flawless, perfect Americans. At work and at home, I find myself doing it pretty much every day whether I live in the U.S., Europe, or anywhere else. Reality is something we like to save for later. You know, after the first or second week of texting our Tindr matches when we really start showing our crazy. It may not be ideal for long term relationships, but I honestly miss the superficial niceties and undeserved encouragement from my so-called friends and acquaintances. Europeans are some of the warmest, most sincere people I have ever met, but boy do they make you work for it. It’s not that I prefer someone be nice to my face, then immediately talk badly about me behind my back, but can’t you just presume I am innocent of being a village idiot until proven guilty?

I have a feeling most of us will be in agreement on this one, but one week in Europe REALLY makes this significant to me. There are more daily smoke breaks here than in the first three seasons of Mad Men. After years of smoking bans in the U.S. and my general avoidance of dive bar patios where drunk closet smokers are shamefully huddled together like cattle, cigarette smoke is definitely not at the top of my “ideal scented candle” list. The good news is most, if not all the smoking here occurs outside. The bad news is, daily life in Barcelona is generally conducted outside, usually accompanied by a group of uber hip, well-dressed Europeans smoking cigarettes and making me feel like I’m back in middle school. Am I losing cool points by not joining the crowd? Could a daily diet of coffee and cigarettes help me fit into my old skinny jeans? They may be slowly killing themselves, but at least they have free health care…

Yes. really. As much as we feel rejected, confused, and inconvenienced when we visit these offices, there is something to be said for American bureaucracy and the general transparency of our rules. In the convoluted world of Spain, there are rules, but there are no rules and you never quite know from one day to the next who you need to bribe, sweet talk, or avoid altogether to get official paperwork done. There are times when people spend months just trying to get access to the front door of some government offices. I’m sorry, are you mad you had to wait two hours to renew your drivers license? I just promised my gall bladder to a woman from Siberia to pay my immigration taxes. Keep your pants on and be nice when your name is called. We’ve all got better places to be.

Speaking of the government…yeah, we hate to talk about politics, but we are now in a place where, more than ever, we are forced to confront it. And for some odd reason, I’m really grateful that we do. I don’t like comparing the political climate in the U.S. to other parts of the world. There are problems everywhere that I don’t fully understand and let’s face it, a lot of them are becoming more interrelated. It’s uncomfortable for all of us, especially when you have to sit next to that person at Thanksgiving who is downing just enough booze to stir up some liquid courage to bring up “that thing he heard from somewhere”. I must admit, I am also thankful my exposure to the same overly argued political talking points is muted now that I live in Europe. But, after taking a step back, I can honestly say I am grateful more of us care. More of us are trying. It may not be pretty but how else are we going to have a more perfect union?

Oh I said it. And I’m not taking it back. I still have no idea what my AT&T phone bundle included, what extra charges I was paying, or whether my “free upgrades” were just pointless exercises in mass consumerism (answer: absolutely, yes). All I know is I would take back the gall bladder I gave to that Siberian woman and forgo paying my immigration taxes to get reliable phone and internet connections. “Can you hear me now?” I often can’t get that far when, after one week of monthly services, my SIM card shuts down and won’t make any more local calls. It’s especially hard on days like today and my apologies to all those who are forced to call and text me on WhatsApp because I can’t add more minutes to my Spanish phone plan. As I mentioned from the beginning, I am eternally and MOST grateful for the family and friends in my life, but damn if I still have to pay those immigration taxes and who knows what the lady from Siberia will ask for next.

Professional services marketing consultant, world traveler, and advocate for lifestyle entrepreneurship and adventure. Hey, Dos Equis guy…hold my beer.