As I write this, ESPN is breathlessly reporting on the 4th July hotdog eating contest. No, British people, I am not joking. Every year at Coney Island there is a hotdog eating contest where the winner scarfs down 50+ hotdogs in 10 minutes. It’s sponsored by a fast food chain that sells – you guessed it – hot dogs. It’s a pure corporate invention that exists only to make the shareholders of Nathan’s richer than they were last year. And yet it’s become a tradition and now a televised one. This lack of separation between entertainment and commerce still takes me aback a little, even after so long living here.
But then again, I always feel a little bit down on July 4th. It’s not that I’m still sulking about losing the colonies (honestly we got over that years ago!). It’s more the certain knowledge that everyone I know is having fun celebrating something that doesn’t include me. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve been to July 4th celebrations before, and I’ll probably watch the fireworks online, but a traditional celebration only works for you when you’ve experienced it as a child. Or at least, that’s my theory.
Plonk me down in the UK on November 5th and I’d eagerly look for the nearest bonfire and fireworks celebration. I’d be able to taste the parkin and treacle toffee even before I got there! But July 4th only started for me at the age of 30 when we arrived in the US. (For six years before that I was in Canada, feeling left out on Canada Day). Just like Thanksgiving, it’s a holiday I had to learn, and one I have never shared with my family.
I found it easy enough to pick up on Thanksgiving – you get together with people you care about and spend some time reflecting on what you have to be grateful for. No crass commercialism, no flag waving, no religion – just a really nice idea that is passed down through the generations.
But July 4th is a little more problematic for me given my British aversion to overtly patriotic displays. I do get the holiday – I know the history and I can only imagine how amazing that first July 4th must have been – and I fully understand feeling proud of your country. I just don’t know how to relate to the full-on display of that pride and that’s why I usually spend July 4th at home working.
I expect many Americans living in the UK experience the same discombobulation over some of our strange holidays and weird national obsessions. I think it’s just a fact of life when you live in a country that’s not your home.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I hear there’s a ladies hot dog eating contest for the very first time this year and I have to see that.
Happy July 4th to all my American friends!