We sit in our living room watching a YouTube video of fireworks while we reminisce about the Fourth of July we spent in America two years ago.
Before that it had been four years since we had celebrated American Independence Day in America. And I never quite know how to feel about it.
As Americans, we are often met with various reactions to our nationality. Mostly, we find people generally love Americans but aren’t too fond of America itself.
We, too, find ourselves with opinions and thoughts about our home country that surprise us. After living outside of America for a certain amount of time, if can be easy to see our homeland with a critical eye, seeing quicker the most detrimental aspects of our culture than the wonderful aspects.
All these things are magnified ten-fold on the Fourth of July.
We miss home. We know our families are getting together for Mexican food or a BBQ or swim party, or, or or. Then there is the inevitable fireworks display. And we ache knowing we are missing out. Social media outlets like Facebook and Instagram become equally loved and despised as we scroll past photo after photo; grateful we can be a part, albeit a tiny one, of the festivities…and aching inside as the images just hammer home the fact that we aren’t there.
We are grateful for home. Nothing will make you more grateful for the freedoms Americans enjoy like spending an extended period of time away from those freedoms. Our family has been blessed to be able to spend all our time overseas in countries that also enjoy vast personal, political and religious freedoms but it is different. I always feel such a deep, flowing sense of gratitude that I grew up in a place in which I could live, work, play and worship without fear for my life.
We are grateful for our host culture. We love the diversity and learning how other people “do life.” We are so grateful for the opportunity to experience life in a new culture, language, geographic location. We love the food, the people, the way they see the world. We are keenly aware that only a very small percentage of the population gets to experience what we experience and we don’t want to waste the opportunity. And as strange as it sounds, spending a day celebrating our home culture and country can feel like we aren’t fully appreciating the opportunities we’ve been given to fully embrace our host culture.
We want to celebrate. Part of us wants to deck out in all the red, white and blue we own, fire up the grill and chow down on hotdogs, watermelon and cakes topped with strawberries, blueberries and whipped cream arranged carefully into the image of Old Glory while gathering with every other Expat in our area with whom we have had any modicum of pervious contact. We want to play all the patriotic songs and shout from the rooftops our pride in our nation and Her freedoms. We pin every patriotic recipe, craft, and home decor we come across….and usually make none of them because we have no time or cannot find any of the ingredients/items needed. It’s funny how “You can find these at literally any store” makes you laugh when you live outside the States.
We want to ignore the day altogether. No one else in our host culture is celebrating. They go to work and school and carry on as if it is any other day – because, for them, it is. It is tempting to just go with the flow and act like nothing special is happening. Then, of course, you have the awkward political views that can put a damper on your American patriotism. You don’t want to invite a debate, or worse, some kind of anti-American incident. It’s difficult to find the line between not losing your sense of patriotism and cultural identity and being sensitive to the cultural and political climate in which you currently live.
For the most part, this particular holiday is spent wading through a complicated bog of homesickness, denial, culture shock, joy and deep sorrowful ache that you can’t quite put your finger on. We worry that no matter how we choose to acknowledge and celebrate the day might be insulting to either our homeland or our new home country – its a delicate balance and one I constantly worry I carry flippantly at best, irresponsibly at worst.
Of course, I write from an American perspective, but I’d venture to say these thoughts and feelings would be similar for any Expat on the national holiday of his home country.
Are you an Expat? How do you handle your national holiday while living in your host culture?