The 4th of July and what I’ve learned about being an American

Today I woke up singing “Yankee Doodle Dandy” to Frans. I don’t know why that’s the song that keeps making the rounds in my head…it should be “America the Beautiful” or “The Star Spangled Banner.”

But no, Frans  was treated to a sleepy rendition of  “A real, live cousin of  my Uncle Sam, born on the Fourth of July…” After he had been the first to wish me a happy fourth, my sweet husband.

He’s really surprised me in many good ways. And being extra thoughtful about my cultural transition has been one of them. He’s easier on me than I am on myself during this transition.

I could explain the history behind July 4th (the day that the Declaration of Independence was completed). Or that England didn’t get the news for weeks that the States had drafted said document. I could explain to you all about Yankee Doodle (a song sung by proper British soldiers mocking the oft-disheveled American colonists), or even Uncle Sam (a metaphor for the United States, after Samuel Wilson, a meat packer who fed the troops during the Revolutionary War).

But I want to write more today about what I have noticed about my changing nationalism. Boy oh boy will immigration give you a bit of perspective on your home land.

I still remember scoffing at my own nationality. I was never (and still am not) a big fan of American flags in church. I was never (and still am not) a big fan of the I’m Proud to be an American song. I’ve had a history of running from (instead of toward) American tourists in London/Paris/Rome/Geneva/Amsterdam because I was embarrassed of their loud voices and annoying questions.  I would die before associations were made!

There is a kind of loud, haughty freedom Americans express (especially the university/young adult/hipster generation) while in their own country about how ashamed they are of their own country. Okay, and they’ll express it loudly outside their own country too. But living somewhere else (not just for a year or two, for fun), gives perspective. Hindsight is 20/20. Today I’m proudly wearing blue stretch pants, a red top, and a white sweater. With my red Toms. I haven’t broken out the American kerchief yet.  It’s nice that red, white, and blue are also the Dutch colors. Two birds!

It is strange to see people going to work today, the streets quiet, no barbeque culture in sight. No fireworks.  It would be the same for Frans if we were in the States for King’s Day: no street markets, people in orange, boats traveling the canals, or big parties in the streets. It almost feels like everyone forgot. I miss my parents and their cookouts, my friends and their cookouts. I miss that the pool feels really good on a hot July day. That no one says, “Oh, July 4th, that quaint little American holiday. What is it all about?”

As for me and my house, we will barbeque tonight, rain or shine. I need to find my potato salad and deviled egg recipes, and Frans will make an expedition to select the hamburgers and hotdogs for the grill. Maybe I can even buy watermelon. Those invited are our neighbors, another international couple, and most of fellow students from my Dutch class, none of whom are American. I am excited to share some good ole American hospitality.

Now that I have some perspective on my own culture, I am proud to tell you about my observances about us:

  1. As Americans, we have a tendency to be too self-deprecating.  We’re hard on ourselves and quickly succumb to stereotypes.  Yes, we sometimes talk too loudly in foreign countries and can sometimes be marked by our white tennis shoes. No, we don’t speak with ‘cool’ accents. Yes, our country has a problem with obesity and consumerism. And yes, even though it’s more attractive to define ourselves as who our families were pre-immigration, we do have a culture all our own. So if you find yourself saying, “I’m sorry I’m American,” please stop. Own it.

2. Our country is so huge that of course the culture varies from West to East coast, Midwest to the South. And so the perception by the international community is also confusing and oftentimes distorted. (My least favorite stereotypes was that I was supposed to be materialistic, ill-dressed, fat, and uneducated.)

3. But this is what I’m most proud of, and this matters greatly: we’re a culture built from immigrants. Almost all of us. We once had parents, grandparents, great-great-grandparents who began with few possessions and a boat ticket. Pilgrims, pioneers, and land-rushers. Who may or may have not known English. Who may or may have not given up more reputable professions in other lands to become farmers or blue collar workers.  Those people were tough and tenacious and we came from them.

The anything is possible” optimism. It’s true that we’ve built on possibility. We see what might be. We’re more optimistic than some of the more well-bred cynics. We’re told we can do whatever we want, as long as we work hard at it (for better or for worse). We have less of a tendency to put others in boxes and tell them to “stay there.”  We’ve made many mistakes in the past, and we’re still making mistakes. But the mistakes are not the end of the story, and most Americans know that. There is always a future, and hope for a better life for our children.

And I believe that, clichés and all. You can get the girl out of America, but you can’t get the America out of the girl.

American by birth, Dutch by the grace of God.

American by birth, Dutch by the grace of God.

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5 thoughts on “The 4th of July and what I’ve learned about being an American

  1. Renea and Rhett and I walked to the Wheaton parade this am and stood up when the flag/veterans went by. We’re picnicing in the park this pm to watch the fireworks. There were fireworks last night too- people lined the streets for a better look; standing on their tip toes to see over the treetops. We’re thinking of you!

  2. Erin, it’s an interesting post. My first reaction was that I have never, ever apologized anywhere for being American. When I have been in other countries, while I have appreciated and been fascinated by their culture, I have always come back home more appreciative of my own country and the many benefits and opportunities I have living here. The other thing I thought about was a trip Damian and I took to Great Britain. We visited the British Museum in London where I was amused when I read Great Britain’s reason for why we have the 4th of July. Apparently, we didn’t appreciate that Great Britain was only trying to protect us from other countries by taxing us and governing us without any say from us! That was eye-opening! It was fascinating to realize the other interpretation of a shared historical event! Hope you had a good 4th and hooray for the red, white, and blue!

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