Nothing makes me more patriotic than being out of the country for the Fourth of July.
Over the past few years, we have found ourselves away from our mother country on this most sacred day of national pride, as expressed by picnics, parades, fireworks, beer and the inappropriate display of our nation’s flag on clothing, coolers, beach towels and bikinis.
It hasn’t been a planned exodus/avoidance of the rampant pageantry; it’s simply that travelling over this week allows for a full week of vacation with only four days off of work. (For those who work like that. Not me, of course, but I do travel with some!)
This year we found ourselves on the beautiful Caribbean island of Antigua. Although it is now its own country, completely independent since 1981, it still has a heavy British history and influence. And at this time of year, with the British summer holiday season starting, U.S. citizens are certainly in the minority. Of course the Brits like to call us “Americans,” but since I am me, and that name applies to North, Central and South, I don’t use it. In fact, for the rest of the story, I will use “Yanks,” the intentionally, slightly derogatory term the Brits alternatively use for us.
We were staying at an all-inclusive resort, not my personal favorite as it is really very much like a cruise ship on land. There are rules, dress codes, meal times, buffets, crowds, a bit of chair reserving, pushiness and some alcohol-induced bad behavior. In all honesty, our group did indulge in some of those things, but we adamantly are NOT chair hogs.
Over the week, as the novelty of watching fellow guests eschew coffee for tea and eat beans for breakfast waned, I started to be bothered by the random rudeness of some guests. “What? This line certainly isn’t for me, I’ll just push on through and right up to the buffet trough!” “Oh, I’m sorry, were you waiting to talk to someone at the front desk? I couldn’t tell there was a line, just thought you liked standing there…” “I know you were in line to order a drink from the bar, but I’m hotter and thirstier, so I’ll just elbow on through.”
My conclusion: ignorant, selfish behavior is international. It was just as likely that the rude and pushy fellow guest was a big fat guy from New Jersey as an adorable, fawn-eyed twenty-something from Kent. Stereotypes fade, and you realize people are people, warts and all.
We were slightly accosted all week, with many Brits coming up to us and telling us of their abhorrence to our president, without first gently probing our political leanings. Luckily, we were all on the same side, so no worries. We also enjoyed watching a group of British children frolicking in the ocean. When one clumsily fell off a float, another pointed and laughed “Ha, ha, you’re Donald Trump.”
We became friendly with a nice older British couple from London. We chatted with them multiple afternoons while winding down by the pool. Finally the man said “It’s so nice to meet Americans that are not loud and big.” I laughed, and bit back the urge to retort: “Yes, and it’s nice to see Brits who are not wife-beater wearing soccer hooligans with bad teeth.”
We eventually created a beach game called “Brit, Yank or Jersey.” We would guess the nationality of people strolling by, then surreptitiously eavesdrop to confirm accents. One fact is undeniable. If the man was wearing a Speedo-type marble bag swimsuit, he’s a Brit. For the love of God, please stop.
Many days we escaped the compound to explore and discover the real Antigua, which is a beautiful island filled with small villages, a rain forest, and breathtaking beaches on the Caribbean side. We discovered a fantastic beach with a great beach bar, (Valley Church Beach, look for the sign about 50 yards down the road after you already made the unmarked turn) and camped there a few hours multiple days.
As we have been to the Caribbean often, we are very familiar with island time. We send our secret weapon, Mr. Friendly, up to make nice-nice with the staff. They share their hopes and dreams, then he places our lunch order, approximately one and a half hours before we estimate we might be hungry. Mr. Friendly’s new best friend eventually waves from the bar, and gives us a two minute warning, which we know to mean “about 20 more minutes.” We amble up to the tables, sit down, and chat with Mr. Friendly’s friends. About 25 minutes later, our delicious food arrives.
Now our fellow beach dwellers, Brits all, didn’t know how to play the game. About 1 p.m., “Darling, wouldn’t it be lovely to have a spot of lunch and a wee break from the sun?” They stroll up to the tables, peruse their menus, and then order, all before we sit down. Their view: we come in, order from the waitress (we had already done that hours ago; we’re just gabbing) then our food comes out in 25 minutes, way before theirs arrives, and substantially after they had ordered. There is some table grumbling, loud enough to be heard, about tipping, throwing money around, rude behavior… and ends with “Damn Yanks!” Truly, my heart swelled with so much national pride I almost sang “God Bless America.” Damn right, and proud of it, no matter our president.
That evening, we breached the compound yet again and enjoyed a fabulous dinner at a restaurant situated on English Harbour. Our waitress gave us a mini history lesson of the area, and its 300-year-old pedigree as a British stronghold. Being British herself, she also advised us that if it weren’t for this very harbor, (catch that? ‘Murca!) our ancestors would not have gotten to the states. I made some innocuous joke about thanking King George, too, as there would not even be a United States without his tyranny. She didn’t seem to appreciate my comment. It’s been 241 years, still too soon?