How the Rest of the World Sees Thanksgiving: Shopping Day

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Google results by country for "Thanksgiving" show that readers and media outlets outside the U.S. are mostly concerned with the holiday as a commercial event

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Black Friday / AP

American schoolchildren may still learn that Thanksgiving is about grateful Pilgrims and helpful Wampanoags. The Williams-Sonoma catalog may declare that Thanksgiving is about cider-brining a 16-pound bird. But for the rest of the world -- for the billions in other countries not celebrating this week -- Thanksgiving seems primarily to be a business event.

Americans, of course, are aware of the holiday's economic side as well, as evidenced by the giant Black Friday lines that appear at stores every year. Still, other traditions tend to outweigh this one in our hearts and minds, and certainly on our nation's op-ed pages. Not so, abroad.

To explore the difference, pick a country and attach its code to your standard Google search (Google.de for Germany, Google.ru for Russia, Google.co.jp for Japan, etc.). Now run a search for "Thanksgiving" through that country's Google News -- you'll want to transliterate if you're dealing with a language that doesn't use the Latin alphabet. Though it is possible to find some coverage of the holiday as a feast, you'll see quite quickly that features like discount Apple products or video games are the big global story. To give you a sense of it, here are some of the results laid side by side, run through Google Translate so as to be intelligible to the average reader. It's a fun exercise.

A selection from google.com.hk (Hong Kong), in Chinese--with the translation, the syntax is almost as fun as the content:

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From a Russian search:

Screen shot 2011-11-23 at 1.28.45 PM.png

From a German search:

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From a French search. It's not related to business, but the lead of the first result included in this shot is particularly enjoyable:

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Google.es is an exception. Spanish-language results for Thanksgiving include a disproportionate number of articles on the holiday itself -- football, turkey, and all. Take a look, for example, at the tips for a "memorable" Thanksgiving at the bottom, courtesy of Univision:

Screen shot 2011-11-23 at 2.37.34 PM.png

Univision, recall, is a Spanish-language network within the U.S. and its audience is largely Latino. Those demoralized by Thanksgiving's growing commercial aspect, or those down on immigration and concerned about cultural fragmentation, should take note. If we trust the Google algorithm, there's a clear takeaway here: Among millions of Americans and foreigners alike ready to pounce on sales of consumer electronics, a high proportion of Spanish-speakers, presumably stateside, are looking up tips for celebrating Thanksgiving. Historically complex though the holiday may be, it's hard to think of a better continuation of its more positive side: immigrants, pilgrims of all varieties, reaching a new land, new occupants learning from old, and a feast shared between neighbors. Before plunging into the fray of Xbox-buying banshees this week, raise a glass to the twenty-first century Plymouth.

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Heather Horn is a former senior associate editor at The Atlantic.

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