Sunday, November 21, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving in El Escorial.

Yesterday morning I had to wake up early for a rescheduled private lesson after my student forgot about the one we were supposed to have the night before. Hour and a half commute for nothing, and then it meant that on Saturday I had to run around like a crazy person to fit in the class and be back in time for the hour bus ride to the Thanksgiving Meal of Death. Absurd amounts of green bean casserole and brussels sprouts and pumpkin pudding and apple pie and wine and creamed spinach left me prostrate and moaning for several hours on the couch, and the loan of Lauren's sweatpants, Juliet's Grinch socks, and hot tea with lemon did little to assuage my misery, nor did my decision to hug and love the roommate's cat when I turned to that fluffy, whiskered allergen in a fit of lonely discomfort.

One of the great things about an expat Thanksgiving is that it necessarily means you're celebrating with people with whom you haven't spent Thanksgiving before and are therefore privy to their unique and twisted holiday traditions. This means that if Carissa is accustomed to jello shots at her Thanksgiving, by god we're having jello shots. If someone else wants Spanish-style Calimocho cocktails, well then we're just going to have to bust out the wine and Coke. And if Megan doesn't want to cook at her Thanksgiving, she's just not going to cook and can man the Calimocho table instead. Everyone's happy.

This morning I went to the Museo de América and saw some shrunken heads. I'm quite familiar with shrunken heads, but the image of two sets of mini noses and eyes and ears and mouths made me realize my ignorance when it comes to the subject. What is a shrunken head, and how did it get that way? Dryers were not invented at the time these were created, and I know of know sort of retinol cleanser that is that effective on facial pores. Turns out it's not the whole head but merely the covering, as the skull is removed before the victim's mug is wrapped around a ball and boiled in water with herbs. It's kind of like tea, with the flesh of the enemy's head bobbing around in the same way as a sugar cube might do. This is an important thing to know about America.

The other day in class I had to have a chat with my students about North American stereotypes. They were convinced that everyone in the U.S. is just like the people they see on American television shows. Also we are all lazy and don't play sports - or really get off of the couch, for that matter. We eat obscene amounts of food, whether for Thanksgiving or otherwise, and Snooki's just your average girl-next-door.

"But they're American tv shows, that must be how people are," my students insisted. I pointed out how the Spanish program Aguila Roja featured just your average schoolteacher who at night transformed into cape-wielding ninja-sort determined to avenge the death of his wife. Is that how Spaniards are?

"That's different, that show's set in the past." The other tv program I know here is called El Internado and is about a boarding school with some spooky shit going on, two-headed rabbits,
and the like. The bachillerato students on the show rallied together to stage a sit-in protest when five of their classmates faced expulsion, and while an excellent example of civic disobedience, the murder, portals to hell, and supernatural intrigue strike me as less than convincing. But is that how Spaniards are?

I'm not sure my students were convinced by my arguments. After all, we do have a lot of McDonald's. But ever the patriotic American, I shall continue to rail against the misguided outsider's impression of the gym, tan, laundry cultural practices of the United States. Viva la America.

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