05 July 2008

What Every American Expat Hears on the 4th of July


I have been living outside the US for 9 years; first in the UK, and now in Belgium. That’s a pretty significant amount of time. Enough time that my accent has long since lost that nasally twang and now hovers rather indefinably somewhere over the mid-Atlantic, I’ve accepted that ice cubes aren’t always present in drinks and I’m totally OK with the concept of instant coffee. I’ve adjusted fine; it’s American friends I talk to on the phone occasionally who haven’t.

Every year around this time I have a conversation that goes something like this:

FRIEND/RELATIVE IN AMERICA: So what do Belgians do for the 4th of July?

ME: The same thing they do on the 3rd of July.

F/R.I.A: they celebrate it for two days??

ME: No, they don’t celebrate it at all. It isn’t a Belgian holiday.


F/R. I.A: So how are you going to be celebrating it?

…And it is at this point that I wonder if they honestly imagine me standing in the middle of a Belgian street dressed all in red, white and blue, a hotdog in one hand and a sparkler in the other as the Belgians go about their normal activities around me.

And that would be a vegetarian hotdog by the way.

I’ve been a vegetarian for 20 years! There isn’t anyone I know who doesn’t know this! And yet still I also get phone calls in November asking, “What are you doing for Turkey Day?”


Do these particular Americans not remember how I was with the 4th of July when I was there? It has never been my thing. Why would I participate in a holiday that revolves around 3 things that I’m against: Meat, Fireworks, and Blistering Sunshine? Fourth of July parties were always an ordeal for me of having to bring my own package of Vegetarian hotdogs and then spending half the party standing there supervising while they were on the grill to make sure no one let them touch the meat. Then I’d hunt around for a bit of shade to sit in and watch as everyone else ate the rest of my Veggie Dogs (because they taste much better than the meaty ones).


Then just as I’d be nicely settled into a lawn chair drinking a Piña Colada and perhaps having a nice conversation, the party host would invariably shout, “Come on everyone! Let’s head down to the beach to see the fireworks!!” …No, let’s stay here where the beer and chairs are, I would think, but I’d end up getting swept along with everyone else. At that point my mood would begin to plummet as I overanalyzed the banality of it all.

Yes, I am the Ebenezer Scrooge of Independence Day.


Fireworks are like The Emperor’s New Clothes and everyone reacts with “Ooohs” and “Aaaaaahs” as if reading from a script. I can think of very little less impressive than fireworks. They are so predictable: They go up as one little light and then they burst into a big flower shape. Yawn! Once you’ve seen one fireworks display, you’ve seen them all. The only skill involved is that the people setting them off manage to light the fuse without blowing their hands off. Whoop-de-do. And every year some kid somewhere does manage to blow a body part off. Who ever came up with the idea of marketing explosives as entertainment? …”Here, kids, here’s something with gunpowder in . Have fun!! Whoops! Don’t light it in your hands, you might – -“ KERPOW!! …..Ooooooh! Aaaaaaah!

This year some of our friends invited us over for a “4th of July party for Jovanka” which was really just an excuse to get together and drink some beer. No barbecue, no blistering sunshine, and no fireworks. Just the way I like it.



Penelope said...

The appropriate answer to, “What are you doing for Turkey Day?” is, "Invading Kurdistan!"

Don said...

The Canadians are so far ahead of us, they celebrate the fourth of July on the first.

Happy Canada Day!

Brian said...

But turkey's not MEAT - it's a bird! Or a fish, I forget.

Brian said...

I clicked on the link but it didn't recognize your blog posts?

Mother Theresa said...

Beer and chairs, what more can you ask for? That does sound like the best way to celebrate just about anything. I almost always forget about the 4th of July since living in Europe, especially since on the 4th of July everyone here is getting ready for San Fermin. But I do like fireworks, and you haven't really seen them all until you've seen the ones in Pamplona for San Fermin. Those are far more impressive than any we used to have for the 4th of July when I was a kid. I'm still laughing at the image you've painted of the inevitable friend/relative who can't conceive not celebrating the 4th of July. Typical, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

Bah humbug, etc. Good to see you're still as sarcastic as ever my friend!

Jovanka said...

Another drive-by comment! Who was that??!!

Sally Carter said...

Oh oops incidentally that's me being all mysterious and anon earlier - a clear case of don't let the girl near a PC without supervision!!