Hold your judgement. If you are told ‘they are all this’ or ‘they do this’ or ‘their opinions are these’, withhold your judgement until all the facts are upon you. Because that land they call ‘India’ goes by a thousand names and is populated by millions, and if you think you have found two men the same amongst that multitude, then you are mistaken. It is merely a trick of the moonlight.
Zadie Smith, White Teeth
Independence Day has always been my favorite holiday. Here’s why:
Of course, just about any Japanese summer festival also features this same happy quartet. And Japanese festivals are fun, too, but they just aren’t the same. I like Independence Day partly out of nostalgia, but I also like it because it’s uniquely American. It’s a holiday I can call my own.
We Americans don’t have a lot we can call our own. Apple pie? Dutch. Hot dogs? Austrian. Mexican food? Mexican. Sure, we have jazz, Pixar, and Mr. T, and as for holidays, we have Labor Day, Memorial Day, Martin Luther King Day, and a smattering of other minor holidays. But all of them are pretty lame. When was the last time you threw a party and lit sparklers for Washington’s Birthday?
So it’s nice have an American holiday that’s actually fun. Thanksgiving is fun, too, but it’s in November, a month that burdens the human soul with an inescapable air of doom and melancholy. Thanksgiving food is arguably better (and perhaps less ordinary), but Independence Day is no slouch when it comes to cookery: ribs, burgers, bratwurst, and potato salad are pretty stiff competition for turkey and stuffing.
When I lived in America, it was the specific customs of Independence Day that I enjoyed (like the food and the fireworks – the parade, never really excited me). Its Americanness was immaterial, extraneous, unnecessary – I just liked hanging out with my friends and family, stuffing myself and watching things explode in the sky. But now that I’m a minority in a strange, inscrutable island nation, the fact that the Fourth of July is a distinctly American celebration is suddenly crucial. I feel as though I must assert my culture against the indifferent shrugs of British hegemony!
It’s not like I’m some kind of patriot. Alright, maybe I am some kind of patriot, but I’m not the gun-totin’, Limbaugh-lovin’, “Never Forget” kind of patriot. This bit of Fry and Laurie pretty much sums up how I feel about that sort of thing:
I can’t even really say I’m proud of America, or proud to be American. I can’t take credit for the achievements of other Americans, and my nationality is mostly a geographical accident. I am also not proud of America in any political sense, although the Constitution is pretty brilliant, and this Obama character seems fairly capable. But if I’ve developed a certain affection for America, I think it is a direct consequence of my expatriation. For one thing, I’m just nostalgic for America – I miss it. I miss my friends and family, but I also miss very particular American things, like In-N-Out burgers, enormously wide roads, the LA skyline, honeycrisp apples, and cheap ska shows. So there’s that sort of homesick aspect to my patriotism, but then there’s also a defensive quality to it. America gets picked on a lot – rightly so, in most cases. But sometimes criticisms of American culture are provincially ignorant; I am reminded of those French girls I met who dismissed all American cheese as abhorrent yellow trash. (Then again, I suppose the fact that processed cheese is usually labeled “American cheese” doesn’t help our reputation.) When confronted with attitudes like that, my reaction is “Hey, wait a minute! America isn’t all bad!” But of course, what I’m really saying is “Hey, wait a minute! I like America!” or even “Don’t tread on me!”
So as I trawled the world wide web for Fourth of July celebrations in London, I was thrilled to discover an event that will let me celebrate American cultural autonomy, indulge in one of my favorite American specialties, and subvert certain misconceptions about said specialty all at the same time! I’m talking about beer, people. American beer. The White Horse, an airy, elegant, ale-centric pub in Parsons Green, is having an American beer festival this weekend, coinciding with Independence Day. They boast the largest selection of American draft beer ever seen in the UK – and while some pubs would be satisfied to fill their lineup with any number of InBev-distributed, mass-produced lagers, the White Horse has corralled an impressive lot of craft beers from across the USA. Some of the featured breweries are Stone, Flying Dog, Victory, Sierra Nevada, Goose Island, and Dogfish Head.
These are some of America’s finest breweries, and it’s exciting to have them represented in England not only because their beer is delicious, but because it provides an opportunity for Londoners to glimpse the innovation and diversity that have become hallmarks of American craft brewing. Like American cheese and American politics, American beer is misunderestimated abroad – few people are aware that the United States produces anything but Bud, Miller, and Coors. I see this festival as an exposition of beer that has the potential to change perceptions about American gastronomy, at least in some small way. I also see it as a chance to drink dangerous amounts of Stone Smoked Porter with Vanilla Beans… mmm.
American Beer Festival at The White Horse
3 July – 5 July 2009
1-3 Parsons Green
020 7736 2115