Thanksgiving: a displaced Brit writes…

turkey_thanksgivingWhen I first heard about this “Thanksgiving” thing, I thought it sounded like a great idea.

We Brits spend a ridiculous amount of time each day giving thanks to strangers – we say thanks to people who hold doors for us, thanks to people who stop their cars to let us cross the road, thanks to waitresses when they give us our bill; even thanks again when we hand over the money to pay. But apparently you Americans – innovative people that you are – had found a way to streamline the process.

Rather than waste hours each day expressing gratitude, you had decided to compress all of your thank-yous into one annual 24-hour-period of uninterrupted Thanks Giving. Get all that politeness out of the way in one go. An inspired solution, I thought, and one we should copy back home. Hell, we should have a ‘sorry’ day too – we’d reclaim weeks of time.

But apparently I’d got the wrong end of the stick. Having consulted Wikipedia, it turns out that today is not about mundane expression of gratitude, but rather about big-ticket Thank-yous. For friends, family, a baby’s laugh, spreadable cheese. Stuff that really makes it a joy to be alive, and living in the home of the brave.

In just under an hour, I’m heading out to my first ever Thanksgiving dinner; I gather there will be turkey involved, and sweet potatoes – whatever they might be. And, despite my British cynicism, I’m very excited. But before I go, given that today’s celebrations began with some Brits moving to the USA and giving thanks for its awesomeness, I thought it might be appropriate to share five things – technological and otherwise – that make me… well.. thankful that a few months ago I too decided to make America my new home.

Here goes…

  • 1. Free refills
    Seriously, if the Pilgrim Fathers were pleased with their first harvest, they would have shit themselves at the idea of free refills. Back home, a Coke or a coffee means precisely that: one Coke or one coffee. Here it means as much Coke or coffee as it’s humanly possible to drink. And then some. Why you people don’t take hollowed-out false legs with you to diners I will never understand.
  • 2. Getting cool technology first
    I still remember the frustration I felt living in London and writing about technology. Every new, cool tech launch: the iPhone, Hulu, the Kindle, full episodes of the Daily Show on demand… had to be prefaced with the words “It’s not available in the UK yet but…”. Even technology we did get – SMS notification for Twitter, say –  risked being shut off at a moments notice the moment the math(s) of subsidising a foreign market stopped making sense. Since moving here, my attitude has completely changed. Now I get all the cool stuff first. Screw my fellow countrymen, I’m buying a Droid.
  • 3. Magic ATMs (and banking in general)
    Given that the PIN (n)umber – and thus the modern ATM – was invented by a Brit, you’d think our ATMs would lead the world in terms of features and ease of use. Not so. With a few exceptions, British ATMs are capable only of doling out money and/or swallowing our cards. Here they can read cheques – sorry, checks – and tell you when they’re likely to clear! (The fact that no Brit has written a cheque since 1992 is irrelevant) They allow you to transfer money between accounts! They sell stamps! I imagine, if I asked nicely, they would also perform sexual favours. Seriously, America, kudos on the ATMs. (While I’m on the subject of banking – additional kudos for making it easy to open a bank account here. Two forms of photo ID and I was out of Wells Fargo, account details in hand, in less than 20 minutes. Note to fellow Brits: they set up your Internet banking username and password at the same time. I know. Freaking mindblowing.)
  • 4. Double-decker trains
    American trains are pretty awesome on their own. Twice as much leg-room as their British counterparts, at less than half the cost. The urban ones run like clockwork, and the cross-country ones are so comically unreliable that it’s always an exciting adventure to use them. A dude in a hat actually says “all aboard!” like in movies! And as if all that wasn’t great enough, you stack two of them on top of each other. Twice the awesome!
  • 5. American women
    Ok, I may be biased, given that my last God-knows-how-many girlfriends have been American. But let’s be honest, there’s a reason why iTunes is full of songs like ‘I wish they all could be Californian’ and ‘American Girls’, and yet there’s a conspicuous absence of tracks titled ‘I wish they could all come from Croydon’ or ‘Welsh Girls are great’. (Useful tip, don’t search for that last one on Limewire). Of course American women are – without exception – crazier than a box of Glenn Becks, but somehow that only adds to their charm.
  • Bonus item: Glenn Beck
    Howard Beale from Network, piped into every home (or hotel room) in the land, daily. What’s not to love?

For all of those things – and so much more: thank you, America. And happy Thanksgiving.