Monday, 4 July 2011

My country tis of thee

In honour of the 4th of July (ironically one of the only dates that Americans will automatically format in the British style... date then month...)  let's talk a little about patriotism.

But first, a funny anecdote:
A couple of years ago, Ross was with me in Dallas for the 4th of July.  We went to Grapevine and did a wine trail.  It was fun and HOT.  I mean HOT.  Note to all of you:  heat and wine don't go well together.  We were wiped out before mid-afternoon.  Ross remarked on all the people who happily wishes all of the passersby (including him) a "Happy 4th of July"!  He said, "There's nothing happy about it!  I lost an empire!"
No joke, a few people did ask him, in all seriousness, if it bothered him to be reminded of the war.  In case you are wondering... British people do not generally continue to mourn the loss of "the colonies"- at least not actively.

This image is pretty much guaranteed to bring on feelings of pride and patriotism from most Americans.*  Regardless of many factors that might separate Americans, this flag tends to join people together.  At sporting events people are reverent (and good spirited) as they sing the familiar refrain of "the laa-and of the freeeeeeee.... and the home.... of the..... brave".  Americans are, in general, proud to be Americans.  They often proclaim that they live in the greatest country in the world and that God blesses it regularly.  People from all walks of life salute the flag.   They fly a flag from their front porch. They line the streets of their neighbourhood with tiny little plastic flags on wooden dowels.  They emblazon various items of clothing with the stars and stripes.  They have big 4th of July parties.  BUT their patriotism, though perhaps most on show for that day, doesn't stop during the rest of the year.  

As for the British people.  They aren't nearly as flag-waving of a bunch.  They tend to reserve patriotism for sporting events.  Outside of football, overt boisterous patriotism (the kind that the 4th of July is made for!) here is generally tinged with racism.**  It sounds bizarre, but an illustrative anecdote:
A couple of months ago, the Royal Exchange (where we have season tickets) was looking for everyday people to act as "supernumeraries" (code for extras) in their upcoming production of A View From The Bridge.  We thought it could be sort of fun, so we sent in our pictures and availability.  We got word that we were through the first hurdle (apparently we weren't excluded on the basis of our looks) and should come in for a group "casting".  We showed up at the stage door to the theatre, as instructed, and went up to the costume department to be measured.  Then a group of about 15 people went into a large rehearsal room.  The director and her assistant were there and had us all sit in chairs in a circle.  She then asked us to go around the room and tell our names and one interesting thing about ourselves.  (I'm getting to the relevant part- I promise.)  There was a young man in our group- late teens I would say- who was clearly an acting student.  He had a very serious look on his face and a drama department sweatshirt on his body.  When it came his turn to say his interesting fact, he said: "I'm VERY patriotic."  The intensity with which he said this is hard to convey via text, but trust me when I say it was a bit weird.  It might as well have been code for "There is a black man in this circle and I'm totally uncomfortable with it."  I believe this story, more than anything, demonstrates the difference between patriotism in the 2 countries.  (By the way- we didn't get cast.  Which was good, because when we saw the play we realized we would have been really bored doing it.)

And now, to address a reader request from Anita.
Anita wanted to know what an expat does in England for the 4th of July.
The answer is:
A)  If you're me.  Nothing.  We're working a usual day.  We didn't do anything particularly "American" this weekend to mark the occasion or anything- though we did hear some unexplained fireworks on Saturday night.  (edited to add:  We just ate watermelon!  That's something.)
B)  If you're a cool expat who has expat friends (I've looked, but they all seem to be in London!)  you might have a little celebration.  I've seen quite a few blog posts about picnics and cookouts and the like.  I don't think any of these gatherings have been broken up my pitchfork wielding locals, irate over being reminded of their lost empire.

*I realize that this isn't always the case and that there are people who have protested actions taken by America and have burned the flag.  Not everyone will fall in this sweeping generalization, but for arguments sake, let's ignore those outliers.  
**Again, a generalization.  I'm positive that there are British people who are simultaneously overtly patriotic and not at all racist.  

1 comment:

  1. "lost empire" i love it. that made me chuckle. I will like to celebrate Thanksgiving, as that ranks up there for me like Christmas... but July 4th isn't a big deal to me... the fireworks piss me off and anyway, out of respect for England, I don't want to be the obnoxious American celebrating over the "lost empire". LOL. During the royal wedding, Vernon was so happy to see the flag displayed everywhere and I think he was feeling pretty patriotic. He's also amused with my obsession with the Union Flag. :) I think I have more things with that flag than I do the American flag... ssshhhh, or they'll kick me out.