Fresh ideas: This Thanksgiving say ‘Guten appetit’
November 25, 2009
“We often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude.” – Cynthia Ozick
I am thankful for my ancestors who packed up their lives in France, Scotland, England and Holland and came to America.
My grateful heart is the result of a three-week trip to Europe this fall. I visited my son and his host family in Dresden, traveled with him to Amsterdam and Paris, and reconnected with college friends, expatriates living in France and Germany.
It was wonderful to see family and friends on their home turf and experience local customs, culture and food. Germany’s rule-based culture compels householders to recycle almost everything, bordering on obsession. The flip side is that locavores have curbside grocery service. Weekly, the chicken man drives his fuel-efficient van to Barty’s small suburban street in Hannover; a clucking klaxon horn alerts neighbors. Fresh chicken, seasonal fruits and vegetables, even herring in cream sauce come to her.
I enjoyed tromping the tourist trails to gargoyled cathedrals, gryphon-guarded statues, hieroglyphic obelisks, translucent pyramids and triumphant arches. I experienced art: encircled by Monet’s water lilies; captured by Van Gogh’s vivid and fragile world; face to face with Rodin’s Thinker. The last day of the adventure, my son and I walked the Normandy coast where his grandfather landed, and survived, five days after D-Day.
If my son’s grandfather hadn’t survived, if grandmother’s grandmother’s family hadn’t fled the French Revolution, if the Scottish great-greats hadn’t been driven out by hunger and cold, if my father’s father’s father’s father hadn’t been the second son, destined to inherit nothing, he would not have emigrated from England to America to seek his fortune making clocks. And I would not be me, and would not be an American.
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I returned home appreciating Europe and grateful not to live there. In Paris, everyone wears black and gray. Woman may have a splash of color in the ubiquitous neck scarf, but black is the uniform. We Americans may be rough around the edges, but we do not celebrate conformity (except in middle school where we can’t help it). By the end of the vacation, I was ready to come home and leave their rules behind.
However, a custom that I wish had emigrated to America concerns mealtime. Before eating, Germans declare “Guten Appetit!” in appreciation of each other and of the food before them. It is more than “rubadubdub thanks for the grub.” It acknowledges a gratitude for the food, family and friends that are essential ingredients in the recipe of life.
On Thursday, as we sit down to our uniquely American holiday meal, Thanksgiving, I will say “Guten Appetit” and give thanks for the place I call home, America.
• Abby Johnson is a resident of Carson City, and a part-time resident of Baker, Nev. She consults on community development and nuclear waste issues. Her opinions are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of her clients.