My Korean Canadian Thanksgiving

For my husband, one of the perks of living in Korea* was the absence of Thanksgiving. He is a curmudgeon who is not a fan of the holiday because 1, he doesn’t like stuffing; 2, he feels that the sentiment is forced; and 3, he enjoys being difficult. I love him.

*And yes, I know this blog is about America and Canada. Just bear with me.

Here is my husband during our first ever Thanksgiving together in 2004. What a happy guy.

We had to go to work on Thanksgiving in Korea, as the pilgrims did not make landfall on Incheon in the 1600’s. This fact was often lost on our friends and family in the US when they voiced their indignation that we had to work on this apparently holy holiday. So off we went to our school that day, my husband in great spirits that he was going to work and not have to suffer through stuffing. While he was sitting at his desk before class started, one of our cheery Canadian coworkers came up behind him and gave him a big hug around his neck and wished him the happiest of days. His shocked response – “Erm, turkey, football, thankfulness” – was as genuine as he could possibly make it.

When you are married, you learn to optimize squirmworthy moments. While he was still shocked and had yet to yet to recover from the Thanksgiving Hug Heard ‘Round the World, I told him that I had signed us up for a Thanksgiving dinner being held the following Sunday at a Canadian bar** in Seoul. I had paid in advance for both of us to have a full Thanksgiving meal in Gangnam (THAT Gangnam), a price that totaled roughly $65 American dollars. This was an assault on his frugality and his distaste for Thanksgiving. But our friends had invited us! What would they think if we didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving with them? Our Canadian coworkers already believed that B was a direct descendant of John Smith! He would just have to take one for the team.

**See? I told you I Canada would come into play. O ye of little hope.

Sunday afternoon, we and our Western friends loaded onto the Seoul metro to make the trip to the Canadian bar where we would eat turkey. B was already irked that he had to wear a dress shirt on his day off (which he didn’t, but since he was already dead-set on having a crappy day, he felt he may as well dress the part), but he got to hold the iPod on our long ride to the upscale entertainment district of Seoul. A soundtrack of Dexy’s Midnight Runners always fits the twenty-something Koreans endlessly texting on the train.

We disembarked in Gangnam and searched and searched for the place. Since there really aren’t any numerical addresses in Korea, locating an unknown location is often tedious and miserable. Since we were celebrating a compulsory holiday, though, our nerves were pre-stretched for the stress. We found the place, and the tiny sign for the Canadian bar belied the hugeness of what was going on inside. We descended the stairs to the underground lair that was Big Rock Brewery to find a cozy room filled with hockey jerseys and American hipsters ready to get their ironic turkey on. Apparently, Big Rock is a brewing company in a town called Calgary, wherever that is.

We found the long table that out friends had already staked out. I had been fantasizing all week about the goodies to be had at the meal. Would they have eggnog? Please, for all that’s good and holy, let there be eggnog.

Eggnog, there was none. Instead, it being a Canadian bar, there were cocktails called Caesars. “What’s a Caesar?”, you ask? Oh, it’s just a Bloody Mary WITH OYSTER BROTH IN IT.

Because, you know, Bloody Marys aren’t good enough and so the Canadians had to go and fix them with shellfish water.

Having lived in a foreign country for six months by then, though, I got over the clam juice cocktail pretty quickly. My breaking point had already occurred several weeks prior when I had ordered a baked potato at another restaurant and it had arrived garnished with whipped cream instead of sour cream. I scanned the room and the large flat screen TVs covering one wall grabbed me. There had been word among our friends that Big Rock would be airing pre-recorded American football for their special Thanksgiving meal for all the expats who would be celebrating. Even though I’m by no means a sports fan, I will watch some football on Thanksgiving because that’s what we’re supposed to do. It’s in the Plymouth Charter.

But no football was to be seen. Hockey. Hockey! So I settled in with my friends and my Canadian oyster water and watched the hockey because that’s what you do when you are celebrating American Thanksgiving at a Canadian bar in Korea.

“Having a good time?” Wink! Devious, devious husband.

Soon enough, the buffet was opened. The Korean-Canadian spread wasn’t too shabby, either. Turkey? Check. Green bean¬†casserole? Check. Stuffing? Check. Pumpkin pie? Check. The real challenge was balancing the scads of food on the 5″ x 5″ bread plates we were provided. I am hesitant to blame the Canadians for the bread plates, since they were likely the result of Korean small portions. However, in the spirit of this post, the onus is on the Canadians. Since they share a border with us, they know that we are a nation of fatness and overconsumption, so they could have at least told the Koreans to provide us with extra large Frisbees to pile up our food.

You will notice that my oyster pee has been replaced with a beer. A fine beer, indeed. You will also notice that my husband’s smile is extremely forced.

That night, we headed back to our apartment in Jukjeon with our stomachs full and our heads woozy from Canadian beer and Caesars.

“So, was that so bad?”, I asked B.

“Actually, no. I mean, I got to watch hockey with a bunch of American expat hipsters in a Canadian basement bar and eat turkey I never wanted and wash it down with clam juice and beer. I got to stand in line for 25 minutes for green bean casserole which I took three bites of. And I paid $65 to do so!”

B is my eternal curmudgeon. And next week when we celebrate our first Thanksgiving as parents, I am going to tell him at least 300 times how thankful I am of him, just to see him squirm.


Emily blogs at The Waiting about her baby and her past life in Korea. Sometimes she talks about WordPress spam, too. You should definitely subscribe for the spam posts alone.