Tag Archives: Independence Day

Integration – 4th of July


When we moved to the states we decided that we didn’t want to do the ex-pat thing of seeking out other British people. We’ve not even set foot in a ‘British’ pub. It’s not that we’re antisocial, we just felt that we should attempt to make American friends, to better immerse ourselves in the culture.

And we have made some great friends. Friends who introduced us to baseball and explained the rules when we were lost. Friends who took us to brunch and made sure we got the full experience by ordering bottomless mimosas. And the friends that encouraged us to celebrate 4th July on our roof with steak, beer, ‘chips’ and red white and blue frosted cookies.

Last year’s party started early with inexpertly blended iced tea (we soon moved onto beer) and a soundtrack of all the patriotic songs we could think of. We endured the jokes about Yorktown and apologized again for 1812 (how could we burn down the library of congress?!), and wore our most American outfits to make up for it – we even had an American flag that I think went missing that night… By the end of the night we had proven ourselves with our grilled steak sandwiches and ability to put away the bourbon, and then it was time to introduce us to that American party classic – Cards against Humanity.

I’ve heard that this game has made it to the UK by now, but at the time it was the strangest thing I’ve ever done to download the cards, go to Kinko’s to print them out, and then spend much of my afternoon using their guillotine to cut them all out. I remember while I was doing this a young boy came over – clearly fascinated by the guillotine – and wanted to help. I spent the whole time he was ‘helping’ making sure he looked after his fingers and that he didn’t look at the cards! In case you’re unfamiliar with the game, this is an example of what he might have seen:

Some of the less pornographic/offensive cards

I kept his attention by trying to explain 4th July to him. He knew there were fireworks, but didn’t know why. When I told him the UK had once run the US he was somewhat incredulous.

By the time this year’s 4th of July came round we felt like old hands. We had our own small grill as we knew that the gas-grill on our roof cannot be depended on, we added some of this year’s favorite hits and some new-found country to our patriotic play list, and we bought a new flag to replace the one that got lost last year. We also made our signature guacamole, and stocked the fridge.


Plus we made sure there was room in the freezer for plenty of ice and a friend’s delicious contribution of ice-cream cookie sandwiches.

Sadly the weather was not as good this year as last. We were grateful that our balcony is mostly covered as the rain came down mid-afternoon and we were able to continue to drink our Sangria and American IPAs outside. Luckily the rain held off while we grilled on the roof, and the fireworks could still mostly be seen despite the cloud and mist. At some point a couple of guys started singing the National Anthem and we all joined in – even us Brits.

We’ve often been asked what our favorite thing is about America. At this party it was suggested that we all went round the circle, saying our favorite thing. My answer is usually the positive outlook we’ve experienced in people here. I can be ironic and urbane with the best of them, but there’s something about living in a more positive country with generally sincere people for over a year that I think’s made me happier, and a lot less insecure. My other favorite thing is how our efforts of integration have been thoroughly encouraged – perhaps especially when these efforts involve throwing a roof party with beer and steak!


US Holidays

So in my last post I mentioned that the Americans have 10 or 11 national holidays, and mentioned Martin Luther King Day, Columbus Day, Labor Day and Veterans Day. I’m sure some people have been trying to work out what the others might be, so here’s a list of holidays and my understanding of what they mean. I’ve also included a couple of other days that are significant, but not important enough to merit a day off work.

New Year’s Day. Celebrated on January 1. As in the UK it’s mainly a chance to recover after the celebrations of New Year’s Eve.

Birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. Commonly known as Martin Luther King (MLK) Day. Observed on the third Monday of January as this is around MLK’s birthday (January 15). I didn’t experience much cultural activity around this in my area, but there was a wreath laying event at the Martin Luther King memorial, a peace walk and parade in Southeast DC and musical tributes at the National Cathedral and the Kennedy Center.

George Washington’s Birthday. Sometimes known as Presidents’ Day as the holiday is usually observed on a day which falls between the birthdays of Washington and Lincoln, but DC obviously prefers the official title. Observed on the third Monday of February, which is around Washington’s birthday (February 22). I’ve not experienced this holiday yet, but I’m informed that his hometown in nearby Alexandria, Virginia, marks the occasion with parades and other cultural events. Washington is one of America’s heroes – the general that won the Revolution and then went home to his farm, returning power to the civil government until they asked him back to become President.

[This might be a good place to point out that quite a few of these holidays are observed on a Monday, resulting in some nice long-weekends. This was not always the case – up until the 1968 Uniform Monday Holiday Act took effect these holidays were just observed on whichever day of the week they happened to fall, as is still the case for Veterans Day and the next holiday on our list, which is:]

Emancipation Day. This day is actually not a federal holiday I have now found, but is celebrated at different times of the year in different states, depending on when the slaves of those states learnt that they were free. In DC it is celebrated on April 16, which was the date that Lincoln signed the DC Compensated Emancipation Act (so named because in DC, exceptionally, the federal government compensated the former owners of slaves). This is a fun holiday with parades, music and probably fireworks.

Memorial Day. Not to be confused with Veterans Day. Observed on the last Monday in May and traditionally marks the beginning of the summer season. Parades celebrate those who died in all America’s wars and people dress up in period costume. Last year in DC the parade also featured Buzz Aldrin, which was quite exciting.

Independence Day. Observed, famously, on July 4, but which Americans unusually refer to as ‘4th of July’ – they never use this date formation, and we’re quite confused about it. This year ‘the 4th’ falls on a Saturday, so the federal holiday is being observed on the Friday. This is a good time of year in DC, so there’s rooftop partying, grilling (barbecuing), and a firework display on the mall.

Labor Day. Traditionally marks the end of the summer season (which is why there’s no wearing white after Labor Day). Observed first Monday of September, so to those of us from the UK it sometimes feels like the British August bank holiday. Officially this day celebrates workers, like the international workers’ day of May 1. There are parades, but mainly this holiday is about shopping at the sales.

Columbus Day. Observed on the second Monday in October. Most people are a bit confused by this day. In my experience this anniversary of Columbus’s arrival in America leads to awkward conversations about who gave syphilis to whom (apparently the Native Americans to the sailors) and whether the day should in fact be a day of national mourning for America’s crimes against the indigenous population.

Veterans Day. Observed on November 11. While in the UK this is a sober Day of Remembrance, dedicated to those who have fallen in war (like the US’s Memorial Day), this is a more exuberant celebration of America’s troops – all who have served whether they lived or died. In DC this year there was a big concert and party on the mall. America’s respect for its Veterans can sometimes tip over into jingoism though, and this is one holiday where I feel very much like a foreigner.

Thanksgiving Day. Observed November 26. See my previous post about the Christmas season – it’s the holiday dedicated to turkey, family and giving thanks.

Christmas Day. Observed December 25. Again, see previous post. This is the only federal holiday associated with a religious festival.

Not Holidays:

Groundhog Day. Observed February 2. This is not, as I thought, when the day replays again and again, as in the film. It is the day when people gather to watch a groundhog come out of its burrow and predict whether there will be six more weeks of winter based on whether it sees its shadow or not. The ‘official’ predicting groundhog is called Punxsutawny Phil (from Punxsutawny Pennsylvania) and this year he saw his shadow, so we’re in for more cold weather.

Super Bowl Day. Not just a sporting event, but a cultural tradition with specific associated foods. There is a debate raging between the wings and nachos party and the pizza party. But everyone agrees that there has to be buckets of guacamole. Apparently Mexico and California have to time their harvest of avocados so as to fulfil the insane demand created by this day – the guys at Harris Teeter told me they had sold out of 1000 crates of avocados that week. People host parties, bars deliver snacks to your home, the streets outside are deserted – much like workplaces the next day.

Overall, I still don’t think that federal holidays make up for an insufficient amount of discretionary leave, but at least some of them are enjoyable.