Tuesday, November 5, 2013

What Does Guy Fawkes Say?

Remember, remember
The fifth of November,
For it's Guy Fawkes Day
And the Brits are at play,
Lighting the skies with fire!

That's right! It's Guy Fawkes Day and that means fireworks and bonfires are ablaze throughout Britain. It must be some celebration of freedom or commemorating some historical event that changed British history forever. Well, kind of, but not really at all. If they hadn't made a holiday of it, people might not even remember it, considering all that happened was a close call.

Let me explain.

Guy Fawkes was a dude who, along with a dozen other people, plotted to assassinate King James I in 1605 and restore a Catholic monarch to the throne. They planned to do this by blowing up Parliament. But the plan was foiled and he was the unlucky sod caught guarding the gunpowder.

So instead of history allowing him to drift into the forgotten abyss, the Brits ensured that he went down in history for his major cock-up. (For my American friends, a "cock-up" is just a "fail", but more hilarious sounding.) How have they done this? By blowing stuff up and lighting giant fires. Amazing. Technically, or at least according to Wikipedia, the tradition started with the public celebrating King James I's escape by lighting bonfires. Not sure if they appreciated the irony then, but hopefully when the fireworks were added to the mix, it was obvious.

This is why I love Britain, and now Guy Fawkes Day, because it wears its irony on its sleeve. I'd say that it is my favorite holiday, but it ain't got nothin' on Thanksgiving. Although Thanksgiving is not without its badge of irony.

I have no beef with Thanksgiving if you look at it as a celebration of the harvest that is commemorated by taking a respite from work, gathering with family and enjoying a festive feast. But in the US, children are taught that it's a celebration of the Pilgrims and the Native Americans living in harmony and sharing the bounty.

Okay. I'll give you the bounty thing a little bit if they were also taught that the British, I mean the settlers, then committed genocide on the Native Americans and stripped them of their land, traditions and pride. But that's not really what you want to tell a 6 year old, so let's just tell them that everyone got along and everything was hunky-dory. It won't be traumatic and confusing to later learn that not only were the Pilgrims incredibly brutal, but you were kept in the dark about it - not to mention all the other horrible facts that were conveniently omitted from history class! - leaving you feeling naturally suspicious of your education and all authority! ...Or was that just me?

At least in Britain, they're a bit more honest and up front about the violent roots of their holiday and bloody history. Until you mention how the British conquest resulted in cultures going extinct, languages dying, and general havoc that forever changed the course of human history. But, hey-ho, that's all in the past, right?

Anyway, to my American mates, go light a sparkler, get in touch with your empirical roots and don't let anyone say that you don't understand irony!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

What To Do 'Bout Those Expat Blues

It's only been something like 849 days since my last post. But it's not like anything significant like the 2012 Olympics, the Diamond Jubilee, a royal wedding and subsequent birth of an heir to the throne happened in the meantime that would have been interesting to blog about.

In the last few years, my accent has become a bit confused and the occasional "u" has been known to find its way into some words where once upon a time that would have been bizarre grammatical behaviour. I now "go on holiday", "ride the tube" and "go down the pub for a pint". And I got to say, it's pretty awesome. 

I absolutely love Britain. I will defend its cuisine to the end, I think I've nearly got the Brits figured out and the weather, well it still sucks. But my theory is that because the weather's so miserable, they've focused on making everything else, like signage, healthcare (to be continued) and transportation, brilliant...most of the time.

But even though I haven't lost my English infatuation, I still get the occasional hankering for some rootin' tootin' American fun. So I've had to come up with some tricks to get my yankee fix. 

For a while, baking filled some sort of nostalgic gap. I even thought, "Hey, I'll introduce some of my favourite goodies to the UK market - snickerdoodles, whoopie pies, thumbprint cookies - and make a killing", until I discovered that the Hummingbird Bakery beat me to the sweet, insulin resistant punch. 

Then I thought I'd become a devout American sports fan. But taking into account the five hour time difference and an unwillingness to commit to an overwhelming TV sports package, that just seemed impractical. So alas, I had little choice but to pay homage to the homeland itself and take a trip back to the land of the free. 

It'd been 18 months since my last visit and I quickly realised that I was seeing my motherland through union jack tinted glasses. Not surprisingly, the thing that culturally shocked me first was the sheer volume of stuff. There was so much of everything, most notably, peanut butter. 

In the UK, the slot allotted for a product on the shelf of a supermarket will typically be as wide as one, maybe two, of whatever the item is. But in the US, they cram in as many of each thing as they can, sometimes five items in breadth. But it's little wonder that they do when you look at the scale of everything else. If you didn't shove three dozen of each brand of cereal on the shelves, the vast aisles would look nearly empty and ridiculous. 

My surprise at what was once an unconscious assumption becoming a fascinating tourist attraction worthy of a photo in the middle of Food Lion under the gaze of a gentleman wearing a confederate flag as a hat, made me stop and think about how noticing things like this must mean that the line of binational patriotism has become a little blurrier. It made me question how I define home and if every place I go will feel at least a little foreign now. But then I went to Target and saw 25 checkout lines and only one open and thought, "No, I've just been blessed with a fabulous sense of irony."