This time of year always gets me thinking about the Thanksgiving I spent in Prague, over 15 years ago. We didn’t celebrate on the day that everyone in the states celebrated, we instead had a dinner party sometime between Canadian and American Thanksgiving because my flat-mate and I were from those two countries. We had another good friend who lived with us up until about that time in November when she changed schools (we were all English teachers) which meant she also had to change flats. She was from South Africa and if I remember correctly, it was her first Thanksgiving dinner.
The evening started out well, besides the fact my Canadian flat-mate’s turkey turned out to actually be a duck. (We couldn’t read that much Czech so it was an easy mistake to make, plus neither of us ate poultry at the time so we didn’t have any clue it didn’t taste like a turkey until our guests started commenting on the delicious duck to which we replied, “It’s turkey” and they all answered, “No, it’s definitely duck.”
After the dinner party which included English teachers from various countries and backgrounds, my South African friend and I headed out to meet a sketchy guy we barely knew at a club across town because we were young and thought it would be a fun, exciting end to the evening. My Canadian friend saw that it was all folly and most likely not going to end well, so she stayed home. She was the youngest of us there, but somehow managed to be the wisest more often than not.
Another teacher who had attended our Thanksgiving celebration decided to go with us which was not exactly good news to us. By that time the South African and I knew each other quite well and had a mutual understanding of people and timing that makes going out to late night clubs across town to meet sketchy strangers a little less of a bad idea. If one of us sensed it was time to turn around, we trusted the other to do it. This other young woman was a wild card in that respect and we both had our reservations about her, but what could we do? She came along.
At the club we ended up splitting up right away. The South African had recently moved into a flat occupied by a British couple who were in the middle of a very long break-up, and they happened to be at the club. They immediately drew her into their issues so she found herself playing peacemaker and go-between, as much as one can anyway with ear-bursting techno music pounding through the dark rooms. The other teacher disappeared in a social frenzy of partying as though she’d just been let out of her strict family home for the first time in her life. I was being dogged by a young American boy who actually was on his own for the first time in his life and seemed to decide I could be something along the lines of a babysitter with benefits. Not surprisingly, the sketchy stranger who told us we ‘had’ to go to that club that night never showed up.
My friend and I found each other and realized we were both having a terrible time so the plan to go home was quickly made with the last reasonable tram putting a tight timer on our ability to find the third one in our group. When we managed to find her and talked her into leaving, she confessed she had lost her keys. It was hard not to panic as we frantically looked everywhere in the dark until someone asked the DJ to make an announcement at which point the music stopped, the lights came on, and the announcement was made that “the Americans” had lost their keys. Other comments were also made which had an unflattering cadence but the Czech words were a mystery to us, but it produced a sea of eye-rolling and grumbles and side-eyed snickers.
I honestly can’t remember if she found her keys or not, but we eventually all left together. It was all very embarrassing and my friend and I were annoyed, which made the flaky social-butterfly annoyed at us in return. We walked as fast as we could to the tram knowing if we didn’t make it we would have to wait an hour in the cold, dark, midnight hour of downtown Prague which was much more than our thin coats were prepared for. Luck finally shined on us and we made it, but because of the tension all around, or maybe because she was embarrassed, the teacher with us refused to get on and instead started walking towards her room along the unlit, desolate streets of the city center. We couldn’t believe it and my friend ran after her to try to talk sense but I saw the stubborn set of her chin and knew there was no reasoning with her. I stayed near the tram with pleading eyes and hand gestures, but ended up just watching it ‘ding-ding’ away and it felt like it took all the warmth in the world with it. Sure enough, the South African came back alone, unsuccessful in her quest to keep us all together, so the two of us sat on separate benches, freezing, silent, worried, and desperately watching for the next tram.
Since it was the day we were celebrating Thanksgiving, I finally broke the silence by suggesting we think of things we were grateful for about living in Prague. The black quiet was even more complete after that because we were both so cold, worried, and miserable that neither of us could think of a single thing. Not one thing. It was the best Thanksgiving I’ve ever had in some ways, and yet despair so easily slipped up on us with some challenges, bad choices, and the cold that neither of us were properly prepared for that entire long, grey winter. (That is another area where the youngest of us came out on top. She was Canadian after all and had the most enviable winter wardrobe and warm accessories.)
Everyone made it home that night, and once I was in my warm bed, I’m pretty sure I was able to feel gratitude. There really was so much to be thankful that year, the friendships, the beauty of the city, the life of young twenty-somethings living abroad with basically no responsibilities. I learned so much that year, and one thing is for sure, if you want to keep your humor about you, dress well for the weather. A warm coat, or the lack of one, can make or break one’s attitude in a big way.
Here’s a recipe for Sopsky Salat (pronounced shopsky) which is found at pretty much every restaurant in the Czech Republic. There are many ways to make it, and I went with what I had on hand instead of trying to make it completely traditional. It’s like a Greek Salad without the olives and it’s one of my favorites. I hope you like it too:
1 pepper (red, green, orange, or yellow)
2 medium tomatoes
1/2 red onion
Feta cheese (as much as you want but I used about 4.5oz, or half that package shown)
1 T balsamic vinegar
1 T olive oil
salt (that is my favorite salt/herb blend ever!) as much as desired
pepper as desired
To make, simply chop and mix. Let the salad set in the fridge for at least an hour before eating for best taste. It actually is much better the second day.
I like to spoon the salad on top of warm (gluten-free) bread and let the feta melt a tad. Delicious.
I hope all your Thanksgivings are full of warmth and gratitude. Na zdravi! (Czech for ‘Cheers!’)