Why a Japanese Au Pair Loves an American Thanksgiving
A few years ago I came to America from Japan to work as an au pair for a family with two girls in Morristown, NJ. It was a difficult adjustment. Not only was there a language barrier, but I owned just a few non-Western clothes and I was not used to the American diet. In fact, the first dinner I ate in America was a half of one slice of pizza and my stomach was full. Today I can easily fit three slices (why I have gained nearly 15-pounds since coming to America).
The American family that hired me lives in a large home with more toys than I have ever seen in one place, even in a toy store in Japan. The girls’ closets were filled with clothes, some they had never worn before they had outgrown the outfits. The family with only four members had two refrigerators packed with food.
In Japan, my three sisters and I shared one bed in a small room. The home in America had extra rooms for guests, a room just for playing piano, two for the kids to play, one room for each parent to use as an office, another for movie watching, one for doing laundry, and so on.
The selection of food at the grocery store was overwhelming. I still do not understand why Americans won’t eat a bruised piece of fruit or need so many brands of the same product (for example, just think of how brands of toilet paper there are to choose from). It is also shocking how much perfectly good food the family I work for throws away.
I had to learn how to make pancakes, cheesy scrambled eggs, French toast, bacon, and waffles for the girls’ breakfast. All I have ever had for breakfast in Japan is Miso soup. On a great morning we might add rice to the soup. Yet, even with so many breakfast choices the girls in America would complain. And it is the complaining and whining by the children who have so much that has been the hardest adjustment of becoming an au pair working in America.
If I make pancakes and the girls don't feel like eating pancakes on that particular morning their mother simply throws out the pancakes and will make another meal. It is still upsetting to me that children can be offered such lavish meals, only to complain and then turn-them-down. I think of my clear Miso soup that I typically drink each morning in Japan, and I never even thought to complain.
Coming from such a modest life, to the American culture was difficult mostly because the children are so ungrateful. They seem to lack thankfulness. Having to listen to the two privileged girls whine and complain, despite having so much is very difficult. They have so much: nutrition, material possessions, love and nurturing -- but they always want more. They always compare themselves to each other and then to their friends.
That is why I was so pleasantly surprised about celebrating my first Thanksgiving in the United States of America! What a great way to be thankful. Family and friends come together without sharing any material gifts –- just a lot of food. Unlike the American birthdays or Christmas that I have witnessed in America, during Thanksgiving week the girls' negative attitude changed due to the hard work of their mother. Their mother made an effort to have her children focus on their blessings and on others instead of just themselves.
Here are some of the activities the mother did with the girls to prepare, celebrate, and conclude Thanksgiving week:
1. For a week before Thanksgiving she took the girls to donate ten frozen turkeys and all the side dishes to a local food bank for ten complete Thanksgiving dinners for those that might not be able to afford the meal that year.
2. Each night before bed for that week leading up to Thanksgiving she helped the girls list reasons why they are thankful for each guest they had invited to Thanksgiving dinner. They made lovely cards and listed on the cards the reasons they are thankful for the person. Then, during the meal, they asked everyone at the table to voice at least three things they are thankful for as well.
3. The week of Thanksgiving she also helped her children clear out their playroom and closets to donate old toys and clothes to the Salvation Army.
4. Then, on Thanksgiving day the family invited a few elderly guests to join their extended family for dinner. The seniors were members of their church who have children or other family living far away.
I just loved that each guest brought a dish to share at the Thanksgiving dinner. I loved that the mother asked everyone to say what they are thankful for. I loved that we packed up food for each guest to bring home with them after dinner.
I was also pleasantly surprised that on the day after Thanksgiving (which is known as America’s busiest shopping day of the year) the mother took me with the girls shopping to make holiday care packages for American soldiers. The packages included soap, razors, toothbrushes, and travel-sized toiletries. But the most fun was packing cards and games (like crossword puzzles) and books and magazines for the soldiers.
I am thankful the family opened their hearts, home, and minds and invited me into their home. The mother bought me American style clothes to help me fit in, I gained nearly 15-pounds (I just love French fries and pizza), and have made friends with a great family. I hope I will be able to come to America to visit them again and someday they can me in Japan.
Most of all, I loved Thanksgiving. I hope all nannies and au pairs reading this will incorporate some of the activities my Host Mom did with her girls for Thanksgiving.