Tuesday, December 27, 2011

That All-American Holiday - Thanksgiving

November 2011

Now I have to admit I was INCREDABLY excited to experience my first ever thanksgiving (for you Americans who don’t know, no we don’t have thanksgiving in the UK). It is the archetypical American holiday held at the end of November, and with some time off from classes (a whole three days – so damn nice of those lovely administrators at UNC) it was the perfect opportunity to chill out, and relax for a few days. 

Pats family very kindly invited me to theirs for the Thanksgiving holiday, living in Raleigh, the state capital roughly 20minutes drive away from Chapel Hill. With classes finishing on the Tuesday, Pat and I headed to his that evening. That evening was spent being very American, watching the basketball on the TV (a Duke game though…) and eating pizza whilst chatting Pats family. Both Pat’s dad, Chuck, and brother, Charlie, are Duke graduates, where as Pat’s mum, Susan, is a Tar Heel like Pat. Within the extended family there are also a sprinkling of Tar Heels and Blue Devils, with a couple of Wake Forest graduates too. An interesting combination considering these three schools are supposed to hate each other! Needless to say Pat and Charlie seemed to enjoy arguing at great length the ins and outs of Duke-UNC basketball. Most if not all of it went way over my head, so I just agreed with what Pat said. Good little Tar Heel I am! That evening we also went into Downtown Raleigh for a drink or two, stopping off at a really cool place with over 100 beers on tap to choose from. My kind of heaven! Raleigh itself is a nice place – as seems to be the thing with many of the southern places I’ve been to so far, and rather stereotypically American with wide boulevards and statues of important looking people on horses etc etc. We didn’t stay out long, with both Pat and I being totally knackered. Getting back to the house and getting into bed was amazing. A nice double bed in my own room and no annoying roommate playing video games till late or keeping lights on. And it was a comfy bed. Absolute bliss! Needless to say I slept like an absolute baby, and felt a bit awkward getting up really late the next morning after everyone else. Ah well…

In the (very) nice Raleigh suburbs
Wednesday was a bit of a lazy day in many ways, which was completely fine with me – the lazy sod I am... Basically it involved helping around the house and running a few errands such as pick up the turkey (which was HUUUUGE!). I also met Pat’s grandparents, which again I was rather nervous about, and again I had no need to be as they were a sweet as anything and took a genuine interest in what the hell I was doing in the USA over thanksgiving. I really enjoyed chatting to them, even if there were a few issues with accents and understanding one another! In the evening there was more basketball on the TV so making a good attempt at being American I watched Duke (ugh) win the tournament they were in… Ah well, can’t have everything in life I guess! I also got too see a lot more of the Raleigh suburbs, which were just how I expected. Very stereotypically American with large houses set back from the roads with big drives and perfect lawns. Some of the houses were amazing, and the whole area in general was beautiful with the leaves changing colours etc. I did really strike me how dependent you have to be one a car in the suburbs though, because everything was at least a 5 minute drive away, and many of the roads didn’t have pavements at all on them. Just the general spaced out nature of America is an interesting to see, something I knew was the case but didn’t really realise the extent of it.

Thanksgiving Day itself was Thursday, and the day had a feel to it a bit like Christmas day at home, but without the presents. The challenge was to eat loads at dinner, which was in the afternoon, and so one had to limit what one ate during the day, in order to maximise food consumption then. Or so I was told (they have articles about how to gorge yourself at thanksgiving in the papers – only America!) The day was spent helping around the house with laying tables taking out trash (rubbish) and other bits and bobs. The extended family started to turn up in the afternoon, and so I was introduced to everyone; which I was quite nervous about but they all turned out to be really friendly and good fun to be around, so I don’t know why I was worried! The whole afternoon felt just like when my extended family gets together, with lots of banter flying back and forth and joking around. The biggest problem being a lot of it went waaaay over my head, but ah well! Im really gutted i completely forgot to take any photos of the festivities, but rest assured you British lot it is not too dissimilar to our take on Christmas (well, I say our take on Christmas because I was told that Thanksgiving and Christmas are quite different in the US, yet Thanksgiving was in many ways the same as how my family celebrates Christmas! Except for the last of presents...) The food itself was phenomenal. Turkey, wild rice, stuffing, pumpkin pie - to name a few of the dishes! One thing I really was quite sceptical about at first was sweet potato bread. Basically bread made with sweet potatoes in it (obviously…). However upon trying it (because you’ve got to try everything in these situations!) I was completely surprised at how amazing it was. Sooo I promptly gorged myself on it for the next few days! As is customary after a dinner of the large proportions it was (to me at least – and I ate waaaaay too much!), one has to relax on the couch and watch the many American Football games that were being played that day. This bit I really enjoyed, sneaking a cheeky doze in the armchair whilst the Green Bay Packers dominated the Detroit Lions. I hasten to add I wasn’t the only one! I also want to point out it was a short doze and I did watch a good amount of football (the fan ive become now!) with lots of questions being asked as usual about the rules. Bloody foreigners eh?!

Friday was a lazy day spent in the house. Well, I say lazy day in that we put up the Christmas decorations. So not that lazy at all really! I’m going to sound so uncouth here, but again the Americanisms astounded me. The stereotype of lots of Christmas decorations is certainly true, and that is with Susan assuring me that the family isn’t the worst in the neighbourhood! I really enjoyed helping put up the decorations however, even though I didn’t have a clue where stuff went! I really made me miss home too, because by the time I would get home all the decorations would be up. The last two years in Manchester my flat/house mates and I used to get a tree and some decorations to put up, but being in halls this year meant it wasn’t really worth it, and apparently not really allowed because it “wasn’t inclusive”. I’ve already had a rant about that one so I won’t repeat it here! We also went and saw a film, Hugo (a very good film by the way!), but disappointingly American cinemas are exactly the same as in the UK. Except with Americans everywhere (I guess that should have been obvious really…). That evening we (as in Pat, Charlie and I) went to downtown Raleigh for a few drinks, meeting up with a couple of Pat’s high school mates, and trawling a couple of bars. We (well, Pat and I seeing as the rest weren’t UNC students) were keen to watch the UNC game that night, so insisted on a sports bar. Again, a very American thing to do! UNC won (so they should), and I was well pleased because the waiter we had screwed up so I ended up paying for all of 2 of my 6 drinks. Result!!

UNC taking on Duke

Halftime band show

Saturday Pat and I headed back to Chapel Hill for the UNC-Duke football game, which I was keen to go and see. An interesting experience to say the least, with the paid tickets part of the stadium packed, yet the student ‘pit’’ very empty. Didn’t matter really as those students who were in the pit merely screamed and shouted twice as loud to make up for it! The game itself was good, with UNC dominating Duke (as they should) and many anti-duke chants being shouted out by the students. That was also the last home league football game of this season which I was rather gutted about because I loved going to watch on a Saturday afternoon and getting really caught up in the action and student chants. Talking about UNC football is a good excuse to upload a new video, which is played to the crowd as the 4th quarter is starting. The students usually greet the video by standing up and holding 4 fingers in the air (signifying the fourth quarter, if you had to ask!) and swaying back and forth. I love this video though - really captures some of the best bits about football (that being some awesome tackles - I'm not obsessed. Honest!)

I guess with the move towards basketball now I can still scream myself horse, just at different players with a whole load of new rules to learn! We stayed in Chapel Hill Saturday night, at Pats apartment, as I couldn’t get  back into my room until Sunday (a dumb rule by Housing in case we fall over and hurt ourselves or something anal like that…not bitter at all. Obviously.). That evening was spent in the Carolina Brewery with Andy and some others watching UNC basketball team play in the final of a tournament in Las Vegas. The game was a close one, but a bit of a shocker on UNCs behalf, who as ranked No.1 in the nation at the time should have won. Unfortunately they lost, which was a tad annoying, but never mind.  As Pat said, better to get the loss out of the way before the season proper starts!

Sunday we headed back to Raleigh, to meet back up with Pat’s dad and drive out into the country to a place called Salem, for an afternoon shooting. Now obviously I was very not bothered about this at all. I can take or leave an afternoon blatting off a load of rounds at targets. NOT! I was so excited to have the opportunity to shoot some different weapons I’ve never had a chance to before. I was really amused by the notion of just rocking up to someone’s land and cracking off some shots, and even more amused by the gun closet in the family home. A normal closet (although it was locked) and you open it up and weapons literally come tumbling out. I think there was something like a dozen shotguns, a couple of handguns and a high velocity rifle. Just a casual collection I guess! Pat and Charlie had their own individual shotguns (how cool is that!) of which we took Pat's with us, along with another shotgun, a Magnum revolver and the high velocity rifle and .22 rifle. And LOADS of ammunition. I don’t need to say I had a HUGE smile on my face as we left the house…
We rocked up to this amazing farm out in the middle of nowhere, with me getting more and more concerned that I wouldn’t understand the accent at all out there, and met Glen, a family friend. His farm was huge, with horses running around the fields and a gorgeous farm house set in the middle. It was sort of the place you would go to is there was a zombie invasion – set in the middle of know where (and with the gun collection Glen had you definitely would want to end up there!) Anyways, we set up the targets and had a jolly old time shooting bits of lead through paper at different distances with different weapons. I had never shot a handgun before and really enjoyed shooting that, along with the pump-action shotgun (bit of a Rambo moment going on there!). Glen also bought out an AR rifle to play with (just a casual assault rifle for home protection that. Obviously…), which for those of you who know is very similar to the SA80 and uses the 5.56 round as well, and so obviously I shot the best with that (which I would hope so what with the training I’ve had!).

I am not a redneck. Honestly!

The Magnum. Bruce Wayne stylee

AR rifle (similar to SA80)

High velocity rifle
It was a great afternoon shooting in the sun, and having a laugh at the same time. Although with the pictures I’ve been called everything under the sun by people back home (most commonly redneck…haters gonna hate!), and I’m very grateful to Glen and Chuck for letting me use their weapons and ammunition! Lastly, I would like to thank Pat and his family for taking me in and putting me up over Thanksgiving. I had a fantastic and culturally eye-opening few days and really REALLY enjoyed myself. So thank you Susan, Chuck, Pat and Charlie, and the extended family I met on Thanksgiving Day proper (too many to list you all!) for your incredibly kind hospitality!

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