First, let me start with the ubiquitous and absolutely required in polite society greeting:
May the fourth be with you.
(Ever since the Big Bang theory made it to number one in the tv ratings over here.)
This morning I got a quick note from a friend,
with a link no less,
asking me if the things they were showing in London as typical for the fourth of July had any semblence to reality.
But I did say I would ask, so….
Have any of you ever eaten extremely small fried chicken,
something that looks more like a cross between bantam rooster and hatchling road kill,
for some unfathomed reason,
on the top of a waffle?
(No British please on this one)
Sort of like crossed drumsticks on a badminton racket?
The official ancestral crest of the House of Mount Batteredbird de Plantaingrit.
Served, of course, with a free Obama Slammer if you appear in apparel of red white and blue with stars.
I kid you not.
Not that I could even imagine what a slammer would be?
Home brewed beer with a Hilarious paper umbrella ?
Rats, and I promised not to be political.
not that I’m really past the idea of a starred top hat, white plastic raincoat,
and one red and one blue pants leg,
which is more decent than a lot of what one sees in London on occassion….
So then I got to thinking about the fourth here in Gutenberg Land.
There are actually still quite a lot of expats here.
Not nearly so many as when I first arrived, but still,
we have something like six different clubs,
three fourths Europeans,
who meet to keep up the things they learned in their student exchange year, au pair, work-exchange, business training, etc in the States.
Or are learning English (No American please, we’re EU)
Although, sometimes I do wonder at the absolutely perfect British Queen’s English
mixed with the oddest of odd local dialect bits
and worst of jive and tv gangster they have learned and think is interesting.
“Hey, man, so you like gonna eat that f… bird or what? Not that I wished to intrude”
Only Germans and that dude who does the horsey dances talk like that, guys.
Also up on the “let’s do it like the Yanks” lists on this day is fast food-
Or as one German great grandmother of about eighty,
trying to eat a hamburger with a knife and fork-
fork left, knife right,
never putting them down, in correct European style,
said to me,
peacefully minding my own business at a Mckies,
while eating my burger,
in correct American style,
ie with both hands and upside down
so the tomato doesn’t fall out,
“You, I couldn’t eat this every day.”
Place number six on the list of ‘All Americans…’
- chewing gum, not done where I’m from- although I was, seriously, offered some on a small silver plate at a party. By an elderly lady trying very hard to make me feel at home. Kind, but No, I didn’t take it. I is a teacher.
- cutting up all food in small bites before putting down the knife and scarfing. No idea where that one came from. Never seen it in my family or any social situation. Maybe from a bad film?
- No culture. Yes. We have a culture. And a fine one too. with lots of Nobel prizes for lit etc. It’s just that it’s not European. Which is the only thing Europeans accept. Just as a thought- would you say China has no culture? Of course not. Our culture has about as much to do with European as China’s does. Surprised? Most people are.
- Large cars and wasters of resources- Not even close. And as soon as Germans are in a position to have the money and be above the social slap in the face if you are different, they are much much much worse wasters. And suv drivers.
- Yanks speak like they have a hot potato in their mouths. Actually, except for the coasts, which sound more European, Americans speak mid mouth and balance head and chest voice. softer. more color in the tone. Europeans speak in the mask. Up-tight. In our opinion.
- And finally- the fast food thing.
My family ate some form of fast food Wednesday nights only,
when we walked from school to the parsonage for piano lessons,
were met by my teacher mother,
carrying a paper bag, or a box of pizza
we then set on
before going to the church for boyscouts, choir practice, and Bible study.
Because my mother worked until five.
And here, thanks to all the good and hard-working parents.
Yes, there are a lot of them.
So back to the fourth.
What else makes a typical fourth over here in Gutenberg land?
The fancy tennis club has an American dance, where they wear high heels,
the male version of which is formal evening dance shoes,
with sequins, and not always just the women,
baseball caps, both forward and backward,
eat hot dogs with a knife and fork,
and dance salsa.
And set off fireworks.
Or get together in groups and watch the film groundhogs day.
And that one I will never understand.
But at least they didn’t show “In cold Blood” on the fourth, like they did when I was a student in Freiburg.
And now that we’ve got all the prejudices out of the way…
So what was is it really like on the fourth in the States…
When I was a kid, it was absolutely gorgeous.
We spent weeks at school preparing.
Everyone’s role in the Revolution of 1776-
the French and Native Americans who helped because they were fighting the British anyway,
Alex de Toqueville,
The Polish generals who helped us,
The Germans who fought the conscripted Hessians,
who didn’t want to be there anyway.
It was a time when we believed in unity,
and that everyone had done his part to build the country.
And then came the day.
A day off from school.
When we cleaned the house top to bottom,
and got the shopping and errands done fast,
prepared a fried chicken and salad spread to put in the picnic basket,
then took the dog,
who couldn’t be left alone in the fireworks,
collected blankets and lawn chairs,
and went to the party.
A large town picnic,
thrown every year by our little town,
just for us.
Small carousell rides for the kids,
real donkey rides,
fishing for prizes by pulling a plastic duck from a flowing stream using a bamboo pole with a loop on the end,
fried chicken and watermelon
(and the everpresent danger of mayonnaise potato salad ptomaine)
And the fireworks.
Echoing everywhere on the flat prairie.
Oohs and ahs, before we all piled in the cars and went home.
To the sound of the local band playing us off from the band shell.
Life was joyful then.
And now still, if you do it right.
I’ll let you know when I have heard from the rest of the family about their fourth.
Although I assume it is about the same still in the midwest,
where things still go slower than other places,
or consists of fusion fish tacos
and free dog rolfing in the park if you have a tattoo done
on the west coast.
No, I’m not prejudiced.
I just don’t like California much.
Except for the climate.
And the scenery.
And some very nice people I have met.
Most of whom moved from the midwest…
being serious for a moment,
as for us,
Harald and I have our own ritual.
Born of years of ex-pat
and no holiday on the fourth:
We collect a few musician and math buddies,
some fried chicken and slaw,
once per year only,
from a certain Colonel of southern origin,
then out to our secret place:
a huge hilltop over the Rhine,
with great view of the river,
where we sit and eat, and talk till late,
and watch the sun go down,
and sing silly songs.
The glee club songs,
the scout songs,
the monkey wrapped his tale around the flagpole songs.
And on the way back,
we pass the tennis club
and watch them dance salsa,
in correct ballroom competition style,
hand held just so.
And that’s when you know why you are an American.
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