(Above: Independence Day organized by U.S.D.S. mission in Brussels)
In New York, fireworks explode over the Hudson Bay. In Washington, gluttons gulp down hot dogs by the dozen. In Santa Fe, where I’m from, we take over the town Plaza to eat pancakes. All over America we celebrate Independence Day with fireworks, food, parades and flags, all supplemented by local trends and traditions. America itself–it’s land, sea, and air–might be omitted from this recipe for patriotic partying, when in fact the land and bays and rivers serve as the centerpieces for most celebrations of this land that was made for you and me.
What about Americans living overseas? In this post, I look at July 4th celebrations abroad, mostly at U.S. embassies in Europe, through some fun videos. For embassies, Independence Day is the biggest holiday of the year. They organize festivities well in advance, making guest lists months ahead of time. In countries with few Americans, they might all be invited to celebrate. In a place with more expats, the embassy might coordinate with another group, like the Chamber of Commerce, and rent out a pavilion or green space to host a concert.
Embassy celebrations of Independence Day are different than those in the states because they have two target audiences. On one hand, they cater to expats who want to feel at home for a day. On the other hand, they reach out to citizens of the host country to provide an international experience and to catalyze cultural exchange (President Obama has even tried to use the holiday to reach out to Iran, according to reports from Stephen Colbert).
Some celebrations at embassies are straightforward. This video clip of a celebration in Budapest, Hungary, demonstrates a pretty standard template: American citizens and foreign dignitaries are invited. They dress up, drink some champagne, scratch each other’s backs, and head on home. But what is July 4th all about and how do you explain it to a foreigner? The most amusing videos of embassies, in my opinion, are the ones made by local media outlets. Local reporters want to inform their viewers about the basics of American Independence day, however, they can’t exactly say that it’s just about hot-dogs, pancakes, and fireworks. According to the embassy official interviewed in this video from Estonia, “we barbecue meat and eat it with cabbage, and we drink a lot of beer….it’s very informal, casual, fun.”
No matter how we may want to celebrate, our foreign friends try to help us spice it up a bit. If there is any video you watch from this post, make it this one of a 4th of July event in Belgium. The narration is in Dutch, a language you just have to hear every once in a while to keep your spirits up. The quotes from Americans are all in English, and are all hilarious. The Belgian reporters find Americans at a rock concert, in the streets on bicycles (and a Harley-Davidson), and in observance of a special statue (note: the statue scene may be inappropriate for young children).
Biking (vroom) and biking (trrring) are okay for cultural exchange, but nothing beats a full-sized football game. This flag football game in Ireland brought the prime minister down to the gridiron, as well as some over-eager Irish commentators who enthusiastically narrated the game.
Lastly, the 4th of July serves as a symbol of America itself, and is both a time to protest its flaws and draw from its legacy. In this video, a Czechoslovakian film crew tells the tale of an impromptu singing of the American national anthem on July 4th in 1983, when it was ruled by the totalitarian Gustáv Husák regime.
Have any fun experiences celebrating 4th of July abroad? Tell us your stories in the comments or on Facebook.
(Oh, and a big thanks to ______ , a friendly unnamable source, a man who attended multiple 4th of July celebrations at embassies abroad.)
-Cedar Attanasio, for My Wonderful World.