Thanksgiving FAQ and Small Talk Tips

If you are looking for basic information on the Thanksgiving holiday, small talk tips for before and after the holiday, and what to expect if you are invited to an American’s home for Thanksgiving, this article is for you!

When is Thanksgiving? 
Every fourth Thursday of November Americans celebrate Thanksgiving.

What days are given off for Thanksgiving?
Most salaried employees, especially in IT and related fields have Thursday and the following day, known as Black Friday, off.

What is Black Friday? 
Black Friday is the official kick-off of the Christmas shopping season. Many will scour the sale ads on Thursday, wake up early on Friday, sometimes as early as 4am, to go shopping to get deals.

Will my colleagues take off only Thursday and Friday? 
It depends.

Some people decide to take off the whole week, starting their vacation after work ends on the Friday before Thanksgiving, while many more opt to work up until Wednesday. While some offices do give Wednesday off, some will require employees to come to work, but many come in early and leave early making it a half or three-quarter’s day.

Typically, between the fourth week of November and the second week of January, American offices are working at a slower pace than the rest of the year. Hence, it is during this time most Indian offices with offshore US facing teams focus on team building activities, getting in training hours, and other professional development activities.

Are there any special activities in American offices during this time?
The week before Thanksgiving, companies big enough to have their own cafeteria may serve Thanksgiving themed lunches with turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, stuffing, buttered corn and pumpkin pie (or other similar combinations of Thanksgiving meals). Thanksgiving parties are not so common in American offices as compared to Christmas parties.

What can I talk about with my American colleagues before Thanksgiving? 
Below are some questions you can ask your colleague while making small talk with your American counterparts before Thanksgiving:
  • How do you celebrate Thanksgiving?
  • What kinds of foods do you eat on Thanksgiving? (Note this is one of the few times such a question is acceptable, as asking about food habits is not an acceptable small talk topic in most cases.)
  • Does your family have any unique traditions about Thanksgiving?
  • What do you like most about Thanksgiving?
  • What’s your favorite food served on Thanksgiving?
  • Does your family make any special foods on Thanksgiving?
  • Do you watch football on Thanksgiving?
  • What team are you rooting for? (Which team do you support?)

What can I talk about after Thanksgiving? 

Questions you can ask after the holiday is over:
  • How was your Thanksgiving? 
  • Did you get to eat your favorite foods on Thanksgiving? (Or, if you remember the food they liked, ask specifically about that.) 
  • How was the big game? (If they watch football.) 
  • Go shopping on Black Friday? 
  • You can also ask about the weather. 
  • Do not make comments about people’s weight, or if they ate too much, even if they joke about it themselves. 

What can I do if I am invited to a colleague’s house for Thanksgiving?
Please do join if you can! Thanksgiving meals start anywhere between 3pm and 6pm depending on the family. Ask about the exact time. Do not come later than 10-15 minutes after the invite time. If you are uncomfortable to come alone, ask if you can bring a friend. If you bring a friend, assure you make attempts to talk to others in the party and not only your friend. Thanksgiving meals can go on for hours. People will eat some, talk or watch football, eat more, talk, and eat more. Go with the flow.

Should I bring something?

It might be nice to bring a pie, cookies or a box of chocolate. Cut flowers are also an easy option. If you can bring Indian sweets, Americans may be interested to try it. It’s ok to ask for the estimated number of people present so you can bring enough.

What is normally served on Thanksgiving? 
The main meal consists of Turkey. Other dishes include stuffing, white and/or orange sweet potatoes, buttered corn, cranberry sauce (used to dip turkey in), and other steamed vegetables. Depending on the origin of the family celebrating Thanksgiving, they may add in ethnic dishes. Desert follows with pumpkin pie, apple pie, other pies and cakes and nut or berry breads (like banana walnut or cranberry bread).

What if I am a vegetarian?
Turkey is the main dish. That is meat, of course, however, other items would be vegetarian. You can try the mashed potatoes (white or orange, sweet potatoes), buttered corn, or other steamed veggies. These veggies will be lightly salted or dusted with herbs. They will not be spicy or fried like Indian curries. You may find it bland or be shocked to taste the actual taste of a vegetable! Do not eat the stuffing. Americans will tell you it is vegetarian because it’s bread crumbs, but in 90% of the cases, the bread stuffing was stuffed inside the bird and baked in the turkey, so it’s turkey infused. You can also try pumpkin or apple pie. Pie crusts may have eggs or lard (animal fat), so take care. If you are afraid of that, bring a pie to share you know is vegetarian and eat that so you don’t feel left out during desert time.

It's always better to blame your vegetarianism or dietary restrictions on your religion as Americans won't touch that or tease you about it. Beef and pork are not that common as menu items on Thanksgiving, though some families may have ham (pork).

Who is at a Thanksgiving meal? 
Your colleague's spouse, kids, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents and even family friends. Some even invite "strangers" to their house as Americans believe no one should be alone on Thanksgiving (more so on Christmas).

How long would I be at their home? 
Plan on staying at the minimum an hour, but often Thanksgiving meals can extend up to 3 hours between eating, talking, watching football and other activities in the house.

Jennifer Kumar is a corporate culture business strategist preparing offshore talent to build better relationships with their onsite US counterparts. Contact her here.

Related Posts:
Activities to expose you to Thanksgiving-themed vocabulary and phrases
Topics family members feel uncomfortable making small talk about

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