4th of July in New York, as a Brit

As a British person, I’m not supposed to celebrate 4th of July. It celebrates one of our greatest embarrassments: one of our best colonies got away. Me celebrating America’s freedom is like a rich white person celebrating the end of slavery. It’s illogical. But then I realised it doesn’t matter. If America wants to have a big party as an expression of the fact they don’t have free healthcare or kettles, so be it. Plus, I now have a US bank account and social security number so I’ve basically committed treason at this point anyway.

I went to watch the Macy’s 4th of July fireworks. I took the subway from my apartment to South Ferry, next to the river where the fireworks were being shown. The small army that is the NYPD was out in full force, shepherding pedestrians across crosswalks and posing for people to take selfies with them. You know, the usual important stuff.

Back home in Cambridge, when there are public fireworks, it’s done in a field and everyone can have a good view and you can see them from the upstairs of your house two miles away. But New York has skyscrapers so six million people have to find a spot between skyscrapers to look at the pretty explosions in the sky.

While shuffling north with the crowds to find a suitable location, I overheard someone say, “My tax dollars support this bullshit. I want to see it.” That kind of negativity must’ve been our gift to America and I’m glad it’s still here. Our sarcasm I guess didn’t translate though, because in the UK we’d watch the fireworks and even perhaps maybe enjoy them just a little bit, and we’d say, “it’s good to see our taxes going to good use,” but mean it sarcastically. If you couldn’t comprehend sarcasm, we Brits would be the most positive, optimistic people in the world.

“Oh, it’s wonderful to see you again, Brian!”

“Thank you so much for this potted plant, Martha. It looks lovely.

“I wish it could be my birthday every day. I love all of you people very much and I am most grateful for all of these thoughtful presents you bought me, especially this pack of six plain coasters. Out of interest, did you keep the receipt?”

But in America everything’s so obvious. I saw at least three people wearing t-shirts that said “Back to Back World War Champs” and half a dozen people, mostly girls with too much skin showing, draped in flags and whooping and cheering and waving glow sticks in the air for no apparent reason.

Not my photo. No way I could take this picture from where I was. Courtesy of day-images.com
Not my photo. No way I could take this picture from where I was. Courtesy of day-images.com

Once the fireworks started, everyone applauded, which I thought was weird. The fireworks whistled upwards, exploded in a hail of colour, and trailed away. Then it repeated and…I probably don’t need to explain how fireworks work to you. After every few minutes there was a crescendo and everyone cheered and clapped again, and I still thought it was weird. Why were they clapping? It wasn’t like at a concert or a show, where your applause is actually noticed by the entertainers; it was applause directed at inanimate objects. It seems Americans in general are just excitable and energetic, like oversized children. [And yes, for those wondering, a standing ovation in a cinema freaks me out too. Stop it, people. If you want to show your appreciation, be normal and post a review online, or buy the super deluxe Blu-Ray edition when it comes out, or stalk the main actor for a while.]

After the fireworks ended, I started walking north, thinking I’d be smart and not try to get back on the South Ferry subway. Unfortunately, I hadn’t anticipated just how many people were around. It was a long shuffled walk past Brooklyn Bridge with thousands of other people before I got to a subway stop that wasn’t queueing out into the street. I was impressed by how well Americans queued. Maybe something of the old redcoats did wash off onto the uncivilised barbarian natives of the colony. I shed a single British tear. America. Fuck yeah.

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