Celebrations… home and abroad

Tomorrow is Memorial Day in the US. That means we remember the fallen and the veterans of every war the US has fought since its beginnings. We celebrate by every family flying the American flag from the flagpoles or staffs in front of their houses. For us, we have an actual 10 foot high flag pole with ropes. Most companies give their employees the day off, unless you’re in sales or fast food. It’s a federal holiday so the government shuts down. Colleges and universities also give the day off if they are on the quarter system (as opposed to the semester system in which everyone is off or graduated). Everyone has a backyard BBQ. Or, if they don’t have a backyard, they go to the beach. If they don’t have a beach or a backyard, then it’s at the park. Yes, I am proud to be American and I do salute the men and women in the US Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, and Air Force.

At the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
At the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

For me, my brother invited his friends and their families from his church small group. Since he’s the only single guy there, everyone has their wives and children (stepchildren in one case). I’m just along for the meal.  More on that later.

However, from 2007-2009 and then 2011, I was in either China or Hong Kong on October 1, which is the national holiday for communist China. Since I’m not Chinese, this holiday is meaningless to me. Sure, I got the week off since the Chinese government gives that week off depending on what day October 1 falls on. Many shops are closed and many people go back home, if they are not from that region where they work. There is a big parade in Beijing, especially in 2009 when it was the 60th anniversary of the PRC’s founding. Everything is more or less closed. Again, the exceptions are usually restaurants and some service jobs (e.g. taxis and karaoke).  For foreigners like me, what that really means is stock up on food the week before and expect long delays when traveling… since everyone is on the bus or train. In 2009, I happened to be in Hong Kong instead of China because of my step-grandmother’s funeral.  Although Hong Kong is governed by China, because of its long tradition under the British, October 1 holiday is not a big deal. I ended watching the parade on TV at my grand-aunt’s house in Hong Kong with my dad and my uncles.

This also reminds me of the time when I was in France on July 14, Bastille Day. Unlike the US, everything except public transportation is closed. That means no food, no shops, nothing. So what did I do? Go to Kehl, Germany across the French border. There, food and shops are open. Why? Because it’s not a holiday there. Oh, the irony. My parents asked whether I saw any parades in France or did anything. When I told them where I had gone instead, they laughed. Yeah, it’s funny, except that day I had a mild heat stroke. Fortunately, I knew what to despite my daze: find some place cool and dark. Hydrate, and wipe sweat off with something cool. Not fun.

So what do to when you are in a foreign country and it’s a holiday? Here’s a list.

1. Stock up on food the day before; you never know what shops are open.

2. Allow for longer travel times. You don’t know which streets are blocked off for parades. Pay attention to the holiday schedule. The last train on a holiday could be hours earlier than a normal day. Also expect more security.

3. Enjoy the festivities, but not too much. Ask around; ask what people normally do and then if it’s something you would enjoy, go for it. For example, I have a Dutch co-worker; on the Queen’s Birthday (now King’s Birthday), it’s traditional to wear orange colored clothing. That’s doable.

4. Ask a native exactly what are they celebrating if you don’t know. If it’s national and the native is patriotic, he’ll tell you. If it’s religious or social, he might be able to tell you if he knows. Chances are, that’s bound in some weird tradition or religious teaching. You might end up more confused. At least you will have learned something new.

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