Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving: To The Ear on the Other Soup Can

The annual Thanksgiving Post.  Enjoy:

In my day-to-day life as a working drone, I spend an exorbitant amount of my time talking to India.  This is what happens when companies outsource everything to another country.  I talk into one soup can, which is attached to a string that runs all the way across the country, through a tube under the ocean, past Hawaii, past Indonesia, through more ocean, back onto land, and over to Bangalore or Mumbai or Calcutta, and it attaches to another soup can.  Next to that soup can is a strange and foreign ear listening to me blather, an ear that under normal circumstances would never concern me in the least.  And likewise I'm sure.

Such is the marvel of the global economy.  This can be a good or a bad thing.  Obviously, there's the potential language barrier.  There's the residual 'they're stealing our jobs' angst hammered into me from a lifetime of Buy American.  And of course there's the general xenophobic distrust of foreigners.

But sometimes it makes for an interesting conversation.  Sometimes you get the tech who has a semi-confident grip on the language and he starts asking you questions:  'Do you know Pat?  I worked with Pat over there once.  How is Pat?'  As though Pat were some long lost friend from his youth.  Stolen from the cradle, tossed into a wicker basket and left afloat only for Pat to one day wash ashore in middle America.

The question I received this afternoon was 'What is this Thanksgiving Day you have?'

I was taken aback for a moment.  Sometimes you ask them to repeat their question because of the call quality or the accent (which can vary widely), so I did and he repeated himself.

‘This holiday you have tomorrow, what is this?  Thanksgiving Day.’ A slight pause and then, offered as explanation, ‘I’m in India.’

I’m not accustomed to explaining the significance of holidays.  Mostly I take them for granted.  Sometimes, I’m not even sure what the point even is of a particular holiday.  Flag day, for instance.  It’s a day to express appreciation for flags?  To celebrate the feast of St. Flag, and his innumerable contributions to the wellbeing of flagkind everywhere?

So I started, awkwardly:  ‘It’s like a harvest festival.’  They have harvests in India, right?

‘What does one do to celebrate Thanksgiving?’

‘Well, mostly eat.  Turkey.  And watch football.’

I imagined his thoughts:  This is what they celebrate?  A chance to eat even more than they already do and watch sports?  This constitutes a holiday in America?  And how does one eat an entire country?  So I explained further.

‘I mean, it’s like an opportunity for people to get together with one another and share food.  And, you know, give thanks for stuff.  Like being together, or, I don’t know.  And watch football.  It’s got a history to it: basically it marks the day the first settlers exchanged food with the natives.  Native Americans.’

Can I say ‘Indians’ to an Indian?  Probably not.  And yes, the story was an oversimplification, I know.  I’m not going to explain the intricacies of shoe buckles, nor am I comfortable going into the socio-political ramifications of the event, nor the irony, nor any of the rest.  But I couldn’t leave it at that.  I love Thanksgiving.  It’s one of my favorite holidays.  So I continued to blather.

‘It’s good.  It’s a good holiday.  I mean, it’s just a chance to get together with your people and celebrate being together and I guess just give thanks for having each other.’  I took a short breath, then added,  ‘And to watch football.’

‘I see’ said the mouth attached to the ear on the other end of the string.  I think this answer was acceptable to him.  Or he was tired of talking about it.  I hope he has something similar, though.  The idea of celebrating closeness with family, with friends, with other people is universally important.

No it is not the sexiest holiday (Mardis Gras, obviously).  It’s not flashy and cheerful like Christmas.  It’s not explosive and bombastic like Independence Day.  Thanksgiving Day is just a meal with your friends, your family, your loves.  And occasionally one or two people you don’t like or don’t know as well, but whom you can certainly tolerate for an hour or two.

Happy Thanksgiving,


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