20 July Fourth Traditions Foreigners Will Never Understand
"Just how big are the backyards in America?"
Every country has its own special day set aside for a little self-love, and obviously the United States, given the yearly events of July 4, is no different. But when it comes to what we do to celebrate our great nation every summer—whether it’s scarfing hot dogs at a rapid pace, shooting off explosive fireworks, or giving shout-outs to our founding fathers—that’s when we start behaving very, very differently. Well, at least according to foreigners who are looking on with either curiosity or horror. With that in mind, here are 20 traditions that are all but guaranteed to confuse non-Americans. And for more on our country’s unique summertime habits, don’t miss 20 American Summer Traditions That Foreigners Will Never Understand.
Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest
Never mind that some of its greatest competitors have hailed from as far as Japan and South Korea, when it comes to bizarre Fourth of July competitions, the mother of them all is the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest. It combines so many classic Americanisms we love: food, competitiveness, and more food. And to discover which country we adapted our beloved hot dogs from, check out 20 “American” Traditions We Totally Stole from Other Cultures.
Beer Pong (and Solo Cups)
By now the official drinking game of fraternity houses for eons, which requires players to throw ping-pong balls into cups partially filled with beer, has gone so mainstream in America that it’s become a July 4th—and, in some cases a whole family—staple. But don’t think that because it’s popular here it’s a big hit everywhere. One English writer, reflecting on how Brits were much more laidback about their drinking, points out, “Beer pong and flip cup are competitive [in America], they’re aggressive!”
In a number of cities throughout the U.S., crowds of seaside communities gather on the shore of the lake or the bank of the river to watch the American tradition of the boat parade. Rather than floats, participants decorate their motorboats or yachts with red, white, blue, and plenty of lights, cruise through the water in a procession while music plays. From Napa Valley to Newport Beach, CA; Avalon, NJ; to Murrells Inlet, SC locals everywhere love to gather around and watch boats, lit up or elaborately decorated, unfailingly accompanied by some of the cheesiest music you’ve ever heard. The flags fly and families hang out, enjoying the innocent fun like it’s something out of the 1950s.
High-Caliber Water Guns
As summer heats up and we gather for Fourth of July celebrations, Americans love to show off how much we love our water guns. Kids don’t just squirt each other with innocent water pistols, they blast each other with 55 ounces of ammunition from their Soakzooka and commit drive-by dousings with Cyclone Bike Water Blasters. In the U.S., water fights are all-out war.
“I was surprised to see that the US flag is displayed in schools, on rooftops of houses, etc.,” Quora user Aniruddh Chaturvedi, originally from India, wrote about his early impressions of the country. “India has very strict rules governing the display and use of the national flag.” Of course, this gets turned up to 11 during the Fourth of July as locals wear their patriotism on their sleeves—and everywhere else.
Our Beer Is Patriotic
Only in the U.S. would a major beer company just rename itself in honor of (or at least timed around) Independence Day. That’s what Anheuser-Busch did in the summer of 2016, rebranding its Budweiser cans to read “America,” in a patriotic move that got it just the publicity it sought, but left plenty of outsiders wondering why a beer company would change its name for a season.
The Amount of Space to Throw a Party
While many Europeans might head to the park or have a modest gathering in their home, Americans often host big bashes in their massive backyards. “I see American houses on TV and am amazed by how they have all these massive detached houses,” says British Redditor BloatedBaryonyx. “I thought the people living there were rich or something, but I eventually picked up enough context to know that this was a standard suburban house.” This is especially true around a party such as Fourth of July, when Americans get to show off their mini mansions in a major way.
American Cheese. On Anything.
A standard topping Americans will toss on their burger during Independence Day celebrating is that beloved square of American cheese. It pretends to be that cheese that most foreigners love and with which they are familiar—cheddar—but is a pasteurized, and some might say, watered down and over-processed, version of it. “In Canada, they don’t have ‘American cheese'” as one Redditor writes. “They have ‘kraft processed singles’.”
Red, White and Blue Everywhere
Go to any Fourth of July gathering and you can expect to be visually assaulted by America’s patriotic colors. From t-shirts to novelty glasses to full linen suits, we love to make fashion statements when celebrating our country.
Massive Amounts of Food
One of the freedoms we like to celebrate on the Fourth is the freedom to eat as much as we like. From massive slabs of steak to triple cheeseburgers to spacious grills covered with dozens of dogs, the fact that no one will be able to finish all of the food that’s getting cooked up is besides the point. The main thing is to know that there is as much food as you could ever possibly want.
Giant Barbecue Grills
In most other countries, a barbecue is a simple grill with a place for the charcoal, a place for the meat, and a lid to pop over the top of it. But in the U.S. we like to kick things up several notches, with barbecue grills that take up half the backyard patio and come with three burners with wood-smoking and rotisserie-roasting capabilities or a built-in refrigerator so guests can keep their beers cold while they watch you cook. Americans like their grills to be over-the-top.
Young Adults “Can’t” Drink
In the U.S. the legal drinking age is far higher than every other developed nation, which is fully on display during our celebrations of the Fourth, where everyone’s drinking, usually openly, even though technically half the people with beers in their hands are not legally allowed to.
“In the U.S., you feel like a fugitive for 75 percent of the time you’re at college,” says one British observer. At the same time, that doesn’t stop anyone and the drinking is often on full display at parties like July Fourth gatherings—assuming RAs are not present.
So Many Festivals Celebrating Non-Fourth Things!
The Fourth of July is a big time for festivals. From classic cars to bluegrass music to chowder and even mimes, we celebrate a lot more than our independence on the Fourth.
Why celebrate in the comfort of your backyard or a lush park when you can party in a parking lot? Americans love tailgating, setting up a pseudo campsite outside our trucks and creating a party on the asphalt, complete with enough gear and food to sustain an army for a week.
Everyone’s Welcome to the BBQ
Americans have a reputation for throwing open the doors to their gatherings and eagerly welcoming anyone who cares to join. For Fourth of July, that’s doubly true, as hosts in the U.S. are often fine with welcoming friends of friends and friends of friends of friends. “Americans are extremely friendly, almost to an uncomfortable degree for some,” TheMediumPanda said on Reddit.
This tradition may not be as widespread as fireworks or barbecues, but it is baffling enough to have gained a reputation for seriously confusing outsiders. An annual event in the city of Bar Harbor, Maine (where else?), it sets a handful of crustaceans (many sponsored by local businesses) against one another, in multiple heats throughout the day. Visitors put $1 bets on the lobster of their choice and cheer for their favorite to be the one to slowly make it across the finish line first.
Treating our Founding Fathers as Rock Stars
Every country has their history-makers and celebrated founders, but Americans take our love of our own bewigged declarers of independence to a much higher level. Figures like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson don’t just grace our currency, they grace t-shirts worn on the Fourth, and show up on hats that say things like, “America: Back-to-Back World War Champs!” After all, how many other countries have massive hit hip hop musicals about their founders? And if you need to brush up on those high school history lessons, don’t miss 20 United States Civic Studies Lessons You Forgot.
Complaining about “90-Degree” Temperatures
For one thing, it’s in Fahrenheit—so anything “9o-degree” will leave a foreigner totally puzzled.
As one Australian writes for Odyssey, “Fahrenheit: why do you have to be so confusing?,” the ongoing confusion about why Americans refuse to adopt the comparatively straightforward metric system hits a boiling point in the hot summer months where all the talk about the temperature “being in the 90s” or “hitting 100” becomes a constant topic of conversation—and leaves metric-using foreigners confused.
Full-Throated Celebrations of Freedom
“Americans like to talk about freedom more than anyone. Unfortunately, vast swaths of the population wouldn’t know freedom if it whacked them over the head with that symbolic torch,” writes foreigner and Quora user Mike Shurkin, who moved to the U.S. over 25 years ago. This isn’t just anecdotal—in a recent survey, Pew found that “Americans tend to prioritize individual liberty, while Europeans tend to value the role of the state to ensure no one in society is in need.”
Who is the bearded guy walking in the local Fourth of July parade? Where did he come from? Was he based on a real person? What’s his story? These are all questions foreigners ask about our beloved national (fictional) figure.
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