In which three young gentlemen–NYU correspondent W.M. Akers and temporary Brits John Klopfer and Brendan Ballou–offer their tales of Thanksgiving out of sorts.
Isolation within the 116th St. gates may be hard to take, but think of the NYU students. Not all are able to leave the city during Thanksgiving and Winter break, and although we have our ways of dealing, social barriers are less effective when winter combines with skyscrapers to allow us only a few minutes of sun a day. Your correspondent is safe in Tennessee, writing in sight of a full cooked turkey and two pies, but while I’ve been listening to family bicker about gravy, a few close friends are braving the holiday away from their home’s tryptophantastic bosom.
Several friends’ families took the break as an excuse for a city vacation, and came up for a week of sightseeing and restaurant dining. One friend, a sophomore who lives in Green Point, hosted her mother for a lot of “walking around and cooking. We saw a movie, and tonight we went to see Rockefeller Center because [Mom] really wanted to, but when we got there there wasn’t really anything exciting to do. We were going to go to the parade but found out you have to get a ticket in advance.” For Thanksgiving lunch her roommate made “some weird Japanese fish dish” and then slurped a bottle and a half of wine. Bungled maintenance on the floor above led to the collapse of their bathroom ceiling, but they had a nice night anyway.
To pass holidays away from home seems unfortunate, but that’s just turkey-lobby propaganda talking: it does have fringe benefits. A friend who couldn’t get away from the cash register at the SoHo Apple store made two and a half times salary, and those I know who imported family got to enjoy several days of comped fine-dining. None of them will have to negotiate airports and subways on Sunday; none of them had to make small talk with forgettable cousins or high-school chums. To those not consoled by cash or food, I recommend Whole Foods stuffing and a fifth of Wild Turkey. A holiday could be worse.
– W. M. Akers
Pennying is a fine and noble tradition at Cambridge, as old as the university’s 800-year history and a lot more fun. Here’s the basic idea: every night each college has a dinner in its formal hall – one of those rooms with enormous oil portraits, classical plaster molding, long oak tables and real candles (as a side note, whenever I describe this to other foreigners they go, “oh, it’s just like Hogwarts!”). Around 7:30, everyone files in with their suits and dresses and academic gowns, then stand as the fellows come in to sit at the front table. The head waiter strikes a gong, one of the older fellows reads a latin prayer, we all say amen and dinner begins.
Maybe it’s just a way to cope with all the tradition and beauty of the event, but once dinner starts, most everyone aims to get plastered. The rule of pennying is that if you can drop a penny into someone’s wine without them noticing, then they have to down the entire glass. This discourages you from turning your head to talk to your neighbor and encourages you to trick your friend into passing the butter so that you can take advantage of his helpfulness and penny him. If you are serious about the sport, then formal dinner is a little bit like a war in which there are no winners, just confused and incoherent kids in suits.
Anyways, last night Pete and I pennied fast and hard, going through a bottle of red in 10 minutes before switching to white. At the end we got each other’s full glasses at nearly the same time. Recognizing that these were the killer cups, we raised them in a toast:
“Good-bye sober Pete.”
“Good-bye sober Brendan.”
We downed our glasses in one go. That night I fell into bed thankful that I was in England, that I was with good friends, that break was just around the corner, and that a bottle of aspirin was waiting on my desk for the morning.
– Brendan Ballou
Thanksgiving number one, in Oxford, was like your college girlfriend, beginning with the Pledge of Allegiance and a pheasant inserted face-first into a turkey, and ending with fine port, rye, and a discussion of how to marketize room selection. Fittingly, it was hosted by students.
Thanksgiving number two, in Hampsted, was like that pleasant postgraduate you just met, beginning with talk of how everybody’s late from work and an amuse-bouche, and ending with wine, world politics, and a discussion of how to mock the muppets at airport security. Fittingly, it was hosted by the alumni of the Columbia University Club of London; all students should join the university clubs, they’re all grown up!
To pretend that one has only gorged oneself once is to preserve one’s dignity; to let one’s belly hang out under the weight of two meals is to add poise to one’s bearing, because anything other than poise is pain. I recommend sharing America’s traditions with foreigners on every occasion that presents itself, and on others. Nothing demonstrates the American dream better than our tradition of excess. Lay it on thick—it’s your holiday!
– John Klopfer