This has been a tough year for America. I’m not interested in discussing the politics at this particular moment but I do feel them. Our brief trip back in June magnified the divisions we read about in the news.
It can be tough to explain to non-Americans where these sentiments are coming from, why everything feels so insecure. This is partly because I don’t even know what’s happening. What I can do though is bring the celebrations of the 4th of July to my friends here and celebrate what is good about America, past, present and hopes for the future, in order to remind myself on the 5th of July that keeping a country whole, healthy and together takes work.
So, on to the happy.
We have not celebrated the 4th of July surrounded by Americans in a few years. The first year we went to London (just to rub it in to the locals you know?), the second year we were with my parents and church friends from NZ and other places, and then this year we were again with church friends, but here in Germany, and again outnumbered.
Z and I were invited to a traditional 4th of July BBQ this year on Saturday July 1st at our American friends’ place in Nierstein. They host this party every year. Between us, them, their daughter and two others, we formed the American expat contingent while everyone else was European, plus one happy Canadian and one Australian.
July 1st is actually Canada Day. The gate to the yard was decorated with a Canadian flag and the old Grand Union flag so I was pretty confused as to which holiday we were coming to celebrate. I had completely forgotten that Canada Day shares a weekend with us (I actually hadn’t, I had no idea) so it was a pleasant surprise to walk in and see the burgers on the grill, the potato and pasta salads, and Canadian flags everywhere (with American flag napkins interspersed).
We met some new people and caught up with others whom we hadn’t seen in a few weeks, and then immediately chowed down on a super delicious picnic spread. As our Australian church organist and a few members of the choir were present (including our Canadian friend), the lyrics to “O Canada” were passed around after we were all sufficiently stuffed and satiated. Afterwards our host made a lovely speech (not at all political… 🙂 ) about inclusiveness and separating American politics from Americans, followed by our hostess reciting the preamble to the Constitution and the poem from the Statue of Liberty. Personally I had tears in my eyes as did a few others in the room, which goes to show the amount of underlying emotion everyone has this year.
We were all quite moved and a request for the national anthem was made, which our organist knew by heart so off we went, a group of mostly “foreigners” singing the American national anthem without any lyrics or sheet music to help us.
So then, on Monday with Zach’s excellent apple-slicing and root beer purchasing assistance, I baked three pies and prepared a basket of America to go to work with the next day.
I had prepared my coworkers that this great holiday was coming up and I couldn’t wait to share it with them via sugary products and Bruce Springsteen hits (root beer floats and “Born in the USA”). Late afternoon I set up our work kitchen with this:
Here are the proudly labeled maps of the USA from some of my coworkers:
As an East-Coaster, I feel sad 😦
And I learned about the states of Germany!
I was worried about the root beer floats since I had read it’s not a popular flavor here. I’d say it had a 25% success rate, with the rest saying “This tastes like toothpaste” or “There is so much sugar I can’t taste anything”
But I am happy to report the pies went very well and I liked their homey look. I have no idea what they tasted like because it was all gone before I could get some but I’m just happy everyone liked them and had a good time.
After this a group of us took the bus over to Hainerberg to enjoy the German-American Friendship fest. This is an annual tradition the city looks forward to and it’s an open-base event, meaning “local nationals” and people like me are welcome to come visit parts of the base. I learned some of my Wiesbaden-born friends have always looked forward to this because of the American food and fireworks.
I will be totally honest here: even though I have been in town around the time of the event before, I had no desire to go. To be very blunt, I didn’t see the point in surrounding myself with Americans in Germany, because I wanted to live in Germany, with Germans. The fest seemed hokey and lame.
I would like to go back in time and slap some sense into myself because while I thought I was being more open-minded this way, in reality this was me being even more closed-minded and zero’d in on one mindset of “be an expat, denounce all things familiar!”
I’ve had a lot of these realizations this year, so expect more commentary later.
We had a hilarious time trying corn dogs, hush puppies, mac & cheese, pulled pork and ribs while laughing at the prices of beer vs. water (which are reversed in Germany, water is sometimes 4 times more expensive than beer in a restaurant). Some went on rides I deemed too vomit-worthy for my liking but my friend Verena and I did enjoy the “haunted house.” Everyone also learned some new English one wouldn’t learn in school or a dictionary and I know now to yell “TSCHLAND” at my next football match.
A couple of the braver ones decided to go on this monstrosity that they assured me was fun, but I totally knew better.
If you don’t like crowds, this fest would have been a tough one. Because it’s on base, they do have to be more restrictive of where people can wander. It was a basic loop with a smaller loop off to the side and packed. It was fun checking out all the lights and rides and various food stalls since everything was in a mish-mash of American/German fusion. Price-wise one can pay in both Euro and Dollars and it was overall a little more expensive than German fests. There was some German food but the BBQ stands attracted the biggest crowds. There were a few vendors but honestly they weren’t selling anything even remotely interesting, or I just completely missed the quality ones. The main attractions here are the rides, fried food and watching Germans try the fried American food.
Little reminders that this is not your ordinary July 4th carnival. I love when cultures intertwine and mix, everything is just slightly funnier that way.
Still somewhat recovering from jetlag, I had no desire to stay for the fireworks which because of how far north we are, weren’t scheduled to start until after 22:30. However the evening was such a hit and as more friends showed up we ended pretty close to where they were actually launching the show from and had a spectacular view. I did miss not hearing the 1812 Overture along with the fireworks, however this was a really fun night regardless.
While this year feels a bit sadder, more divided, all those words that describe what it’s like looking across the ocean at arguments between friends and families who might not have been so divided before last year’s election, there has been a lot of good and thoughtful conversation popping up. Occasionally I’ve had questions here I don’t know how to answer or a news story pops up that makes me feel embarrassed at work and I just hope no one wants to talk about it. For the most part though my coworkers aren’t super interested in politics and world news in general or are also sick of hearing about it all, so instead we can laugh off some of the more ridiculous events that have occurred and not focus on the bad.
I hope if anyone around Wiesbaden reading this feels a little isolated and confused about the politics too, please know I’d love to pop down to Milano for a chat and a coffee and an airing of ideas. And, of course if you’re not in Wiesbaden, I’d love to chat with you via email or the comments as well.