You’ll Never Take My Freedom!
When I woke up, it was not the Fourth of July. It was July fourth. You know, the day between July third and July fifth. I was in Scotland, celebrating the Fourth in another country that also didn’t like tea-sipping, knicker-wearing English pansies controlling it either. However, we actually succeeded in our revolution, the result being we don’t celebrate our Nationalism in skirts blowing our brains out through pipes. We, of course, are a lot more sophisticated and patriotic: we set things on fire.
“My country ‘tis of thee; sweet land of py-ro-tech-nyyyyy!!!”
I delighted being in an English controlled country on the Fourth of July. I was in a country that tried to control my own, yet I was free from it. I had my independence gosh darn it! I was determined to erase any British loyalties I might have (although my taste buds would never severe ties with Cadbury chocolate). I would not wear my Oxford t-shirt or British football jacket (not to be confused with American football, so named because you don’t actually use your feet; great example of reliable American logic). I would not wear a tea cozy on my head and talk like Angela Lansberry.
When I was picking out my most patriotic gear, I was disappointed. Following study abroad suggestions, I did not have USA-identifying apparel. I also wanted to make laundry simple. So I had about four shirts in varying degrees of black and white. So by figuring out what was clean (i.e. it didn’t smell like haggis), I discovered my most American attire: jeans (staple of the American wardrobe), a black newspaper staff t-shirt (promoting freedom of speech), and a pair of pink Nikes (made in China).
I went to Glasgow to meet one of my friends from high school, BZ (BZ is short for her first name, Elizabeth). Although I was told the train station was right off Princes Street and “you can’t miss it,” I had doubts. I had many a time missed things “you can’t miss.” I discovered my talent for finding things I wasn’t looking for (the British version of Chinatown) and not finding things I was looking for (the bathroom and cute British boys). I’d miss the train station only to find it two days later around the corner from where I started, but none the less still celebrating my freedom of expression by carrying on in my directionally-challenged, silly American tourist ways. But today, in spite of celebrating my Americaness, I found the station.
The train’s final destination was Glasgow, so it was impossible for me to miss my stop because I spaced out (probably plotting ways to get British boys to buy me drinks in pubs). Once there, I wandered around the small station, wondering which entrance BZ would emerge from. I also debated using the bathroom, I mean, the loo (called the loo because it obviously rhymes with fecal matter). If I used the loo, I’d miss her, but if I didn’t, she’d show up two years later. And my bladder would explode, making me the feature fireworks display for the evening.
I walked towards the toilet. The debate was decided when I saw I had to pay to pee. Sixty pence to be exact, which at the time was equivalent to one dollar and twenty cents. Not the first time I’d paid to use the public toilet, but I am a firm believer in the old American revolutionary saying: “No taxation with urination.” Although, sucking money out of people for a necessity is pretty darn American.
BZ finally showed up twenty minutes later. I ran and hugged her like she was the last American in Scotland. I was relieved I had a) found the train station; b) was still in Scotland; c) had found BZ and d) my little body hadn’t blown up in a patriotic display of bodily fluids. These were no small miracles for a girl who had been taking the scenic (and by ‘scenic’ I mean ‘wrong’) route everywhere she went the past three weeks and who refused to let the British tax her biological functions.
BZ had invited a bunch her friends from the university to her Fourth of July BBQ (BBQ being the American acronym for Beating British Queens), but no one had showed up yet. Hankerin’ for hamburgers, we got the cookout started. Turned out to be just us hanging out in the small yard behind her flat, trying to be as American as we could.
Our BBQ celebration was rather interesting, and by ‘interesting’ I mean ‘leaving a lot to be desired.’ The grill was the size of a munchkin; it had a small rack with space beneath for charcoal. We didn’t have any lighter fluid – we had lighting cubes. You light them, throw them on the charcoal, and viola! Fire! For two whole seconds! Half a box of lighting cubes later, we had “smoking” charcoal, an effect we could have gotten from lighting a bunch of cigarettes and sticking them up in the charcoal.
BZ had told me she had lots of food. I had imagined slabs of hearty steak and beefy brats. We had two hamburger patties and a few four-inch, pasty white European sausages. Or maybe they were fingers from British prisoners locked in the Tower of London years ago. The meat didn’t look anymore edible after being “cooked.” Luckily, we had beer. We had Corona and two others types which, ironically enough, were British labels. So, I had a Corona, which normally might have been good with BBQ, if the BBQ hadn’t come from a grill smaller than my purse.
After the BBQ, three of BZ’s friends and one of her rugby teammates, Sindy, showed up. We, as all hospitable Americans trying to share the spirit of the Fourth would do, gave them beer. BZ also had toy water guns, so we set out for the park across the street for some merry mischief like squirting pigeons and small children that got too close. I also took along my last can of Mountain Dew, which I bought at an American import store in London at a price that makes paying to pee look like pocket change.
“What’s Mountain Dew?” Sindy asked us.
“Mountain Dew is a drink that has been banned in the UK because it does not meet their food standards. (It doesn’t even meet the standards for being food, but that doesn’t matter.) Drinking the Dew is like drinking defiance. Sweet, sugary defiance that slides straight to your hips and contains enough chemicals you might find it bottled in a lab one day, right next to liquid nitrogen. Also, the caffeine benefits mean you never have to sleep again.”
Sindy began to understand Mountain Dew’s appeal…to Americans.
“So, what do you guys do on the Fourth of July in America?” one of the guys asked.
Well, we blow things up. We don’t work. We eat gratuitous amounts of food. We wonder how anyone could stereotype our land of freedom as a place full of noisy, lazy, fat people. As we explained what the Fourth was like, it sounded kind of lame. Why was I missing celebrating this holiday in America when we were essentially doing the same things in Scotland? We were eating lots of food. I wasn’t doing my homework that was due the next day. We were later going to light some fireworks (technically they were called “indoor sparklers,” but I’m not splitting hairs here). I even had my Mountain Dew that I was waving around like an American flag. It wasn’t really my freedom that was missing, it was home. That’s what the Fourth of July is about in America: celebrating our home, however crazy it might seem to others. We proudly carry on the traditions of life, liberty, and the pursuit of cellulite.
I began to understand that the people I was with made the trip. I delighted in discovering culture and meeting new people, but also grilling some food and chilling with a familiar friend made me just as happy, maybe even more, than wandering the streets of London alone, munching on my favorite British chocolate. I had plenty to do and discover at home as well as abroad. I saw I didn’t always need to travel halfway across the world to find happiness. I was happy just sitting at home too. Life was waiting for me in my own backyard. And hopefully the Mountain Dew was waiting for me back home, too.
Post Script: I studied abroad for a month in the Summer of 2008. This was just one of the many funny anecdotes from that trip. I feel I need a few disclaimers though here at the end.
1. The BBQ really was tasty even though it was not what you usually picture when thinking of a Fourth of July meal. I really was thankful for BZ cooking the food and she also made a freakin’ awesome cheesecake that went really well with the HUGE Scottish berries she’d found. Yes, the Scots beat us in having better tasting and looking fruit…but they still don’t have Mountain Dew.
2. Mountain Dew is NOT in the UK, unless you find an import shop. When I researched why, I found some people say it was nutritionally unsound but most sources just show it didn’t do well on the market. I guess gratuitous amounts of sugar and caffeine don’t appeal as much to the Brits, but then again, I’m pretty sure they play World of Warcraft over there too, so I’m not sure what they use to stay awake playing in the wee hours of the morn.