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In Washington DC, Your Neighbors could be Somebody; Or, Cultural Pitfalls of a Yankee Dog

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By John E. Carey
Thanksgiving 2006
October 19, 2006
(A Little Early)

I guess this story has to start with the fact that I am married into a very beautiful and loving Vietnamese family. East meets West is a daily occurrence for us. Most of our lives are blissfully happy but the cultural differences between us do sometimes make for awkward moments and strange situations.

I have a brother in law, for example, that has not really spoken to me in four years. He grew up in rural Vietnam before the war ended in 1975. There was a saying in his village: "To marry outside the village is to marry a dog." He grew up in the Central Highlands. I grew up in Ohio.

Ergo: I am a dog and not worthy of polite conversation.

It isn't so bad. After all, they EAT dog in Vietnam! Silence is a small sacrifice and isn't so bad!

Thanksgiving is a very special American holiday but you have to remember it is a distinctly American holiday. It is practically a holiday without reason to others. Christ didn't cause this holiday. In fact, if I remember correctly, Abraham Lincoln caused Thanksgiving. So just explaining Thanksgiving to my Vietnamese family takes a long time and too many words.

My sister in law once said, "And you eat a bird on this holiday? A big bird nobody wants? Why?"

Don't even try to explain cranberry sauce. "If it is so good, where is it the other 364 days?"

I have no clue.

I have speechless moments in my family. American culture makes sense to us but to others it is sometimes mysterious.

So, last year, I volunteered to prepare the entire Thanksgiving dinner. I had my bird, my stuffing, and all the trimmings (I had to explain what yams were). And I attempted pumpkin pie.

There is no way I am about to make a pumpkin pie from scratch. So I recalled how my Mom did it. Canned pumpkin, pre-made crust, and Voila! Pie! Hot from the oven.

Except that there are two types of canned pumpkin: concentrate (which needs to be thinned with milk) and "ready to go" (which is, as it says, is "ready to go.")

I bought the "ready to go" but I thought it was concentrate. I thinned it with milk.

My pies were runny.

Not just runny.

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John E. Carey is the former president of International Defense Consultants, Inc.
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