“Puzzled Look Businessman” from http://quoteko.com
Many bloggers have a certain day on which to post a specific type of content, such as Multicultural Mondays and Wordless Wednesdays. While I cannot promise that every Monday will be a Multicultural one, I have been thinking about Independence Days past and how celebrations sometimes do not cross cultures.
In language classes, I would like to think there is a cultural component, however small, and it usually involves food. When I was in my sophomore year of high school, my Italian teacher showed us how to make pesto sauce, and I was in charge of purchasing the olive oil. At an international holiday celebration that same year, my French teacher asked me if I would sing “Minuit, Chrétiens” (the original “O Holy Night”). There was a bûche de Noël (Yule log cake) along with other desserts like pizzelles (Italian waffle cookies). I was allowed to take two languages and I even borrowed a book to teach myself Spanish.
Of course, not everyone shared my passion for learning. Fast forward to 1999 and the takeover of a French company by a German firm. The disgruntled young men in my class asked me what the sense was of taking English since they had all been laid off. My reply was that they could leverage their mastery of English to find a better job. Who was I fooling? They grumbled: Why can’t the Germans just learn French?
I wonder what I was thinking the day I suggested that we create a festive atmosphere for the Fourth of July. After all, I celebrated the French National Holiday, otherwise known as Bastille Day, here at home. The two older men in the group tried to be good sports and brought in cheese and a baguette. The younger ones, however, had to be wet blankets. Of all things, they complained about the strong smell of their own country’s cheese (Brie or Camembert, I do not recall). Hadn’t they grown used to it by then? Halfway through the lesson I packed everything up and aborted the Independence Day debacle.
To the twentysomething killjoys, Independence Day was synonymous with the 1996 movie, whose trailer can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d-S9nKByu5w
Why in the world would they make this strange association with a movie about aliens attacking the U.S.? Even more bewildering was my decision to initiate this celebration, when I was never overly patriotic to begin with. I would stand with my hand over my heart whenever the “Star-Spangled Banner” was sung and I enjoyed John Philip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever” with the famous piccolo solo (Listen to a quartet of soli piccolo players with the U.S. Marine band here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a-7XWhyvIpE) Nonetheless, I was not an avid flag-waver; if anything, I felt like an outcast in my homeland.
Perhaps after twelve years abroad, my efforts to re-create the “home” I had come to idealize were clumsy at best and downright weird at worst. It was not multiculturalism yet but a disconcerting mishmash, in the words of one of my harshest critics.
My efforts to incorporate “café culture” into a French class in my hometown ten years later fared even worse. One of the students asked me if I had spiked the orange juice (?!) With a horrified look, I said, It’s only 8 a.m. What kind of a life do you lead if that’s the first thing on your mind?
After that, the troublemaker disappeared. Should I be surprised that he wound up in jail?