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Happy Fourth of July, Ex-pats: The View from Abroad

By Periscope @periscopepost
The American Flag, the stars and stripes. The American Flag, the stars and stripes. Photo credit: Lady bug BKT

This Wednesday marks the 236th anniversary of America’s declaration of independence from Britain and the fourth consecutive 4th of July that I’ve spent living outside of America.

And I, like most American ex-pats, was working, while friends and family back home geared up for a day of hotdogs and hamburgers, fireworks and flag cakes, beers and barbeques (thanks, Facebook). Unsurprisingly, it’s today – and the summer in general – when I become most homesick for America. I miss red, white and blue against a background of summer green, I miss the smell of barbeque in the park. I miss the Boston Pops playing on the Charles River and I miss (almost) everything about Texas. I miss baseball games and fireflies. I miss fireworks at the Washington Monument and getting a little teary-eyed at the national anthem.

I miss the promise of opportunity and optimism that is America, how seriously she takes the commitment to uphold the freedoms of her people, and that at least notionally, anyone can be an American. I miss the earnestness with which Americans conduct themselves, and I miss the feeling of being a part of a nation that desperately wants to be great.

But it’s a strange thing, being an American abroad. I love my home country, in the same way that you love your sometimes embarrassing parents. And in the way that you might not ever want to move back in with them (I said might). Because there’s a lot about America that is frustrating, from a slavish devotion to an imperfect document written more than 200 years ago and that considered women and black people barely human; to the increasingly paranoiac tenor of political debate, a stain that is quickly spreading out from Congress and beyond; to the overwhelming, spoilt-child consumerism that permeates virtually every level of American life. These things become even more stark when viewed from the outside.

So it’s complicated, to say the least. But the 4th of July is not about complication. It’s about an expression of patriotism as simple and pure as red, white and blue; it’s about trying to be that America the Great, America the Beautiful that we sing about, that we claim allegiance to. It’s about trying to live up to the promise of our great democratic experiment, trying to be something better than we are. And it’s why I miss America so badly today.

Walking back from the Tube, I passed a group of young men in the park dressed in red, white and blue, one in what appeared to be a stars-and-stripes body suit, grilling and drinking beers. They saw me looking and gave a friendly wave, so I stopped to talk to them. They were college kids from Florida State University here on their study abroad semester, no doubt taking grateful advantage of the fact that the legal drinking age here is 18. They invited me to stay and have a beer, which was sweet, despite being inappropriate on a number of levels, and it felt very American.

When I turned to go home, one of the kids shouted, “God bless America.” He may have meant it ironically, but chances are, he probably didn’t. Because on the 4th of July, you want to believe the hype. I know I do.

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