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Tag Archives: Holidays

There’s a joke, sort of, that I remember hearing around military bases in Europe. An American family moves into a host-nation community. For the sake ease, lets say it’s an American family moving into a neighborhood of Belgians. The new neighbors want to make the American family feel comfortable and welcome, so they invite them over for a “Barbecue.” Hot Dogs and Hamburgers are served. Yet, all the Belgians are wearing ten gallon cowboy hats, and they say the words “Fuck” and “Shit” after every sentence they say in English. Then, they begin to talk very lovingly about handguns and rifles. They even bring out the firearms and fire off a few rounds as “target practice” on some empty beer bottles. The Americans are aghast, speechless. Suddenly concerned, the Belgians say, “But we were only trying to be sensitive to your culture.”

Of course, I’m exaggerating a little to prove a point. Two people of different nationalities and cultures misunderstand each other all the time. In a way, it’s a lot easier to get into one of these misunderstanding if you’re coming from countries that are culturally related, like the USA, Canada, Australia, and the UK. The misconception of a “shared” English language, leads to a bunch of faux pas. For example, it’s perfectly acceptable, in England to say to a woman, “Can I Knock You Up?” It means, “Can I come to your house in the morning and knock on your door?” not “Can I get you pregnant?” In the US, saying “I’m stuffed” after a meal means you’ve eaten too much. In England, “Stuffed” means something sexual.

The story about the Belgians, however, contains a slight cultural arrogance — it assumes that it’s the Belgians (or other nationalities) that are responsible for cultural misunderstandings with Americans. Any American living abroad has likely heard tales of American stupidity — it’s where the term “Ugly American” comes from, when describing the moronic antics of American tourists. The Defense and State Departments always warn ex-pats to not act like and “ugly AMerican,” and to blend in as much as you can. Sometimes, the desire to assimilate has strange results.

I know, because today, I’ve been a bit of an “Ugly American” by complete accident and attempted goodwill. My family has spent a lot of time in the United Kingdom — in England, and in the self-governing colony of Bermuda. So, we’ve experienced “Boxing Day,” the 26th of December. In the years since, my parents and myself do stop to wish each other “A good Boxing Day” — for my family, when we lived in Germany, it’s like how we used celebrate Nickolaustag on Dec. 6 (I would wake up to find presents stuffed into my shoes). So, “Happy Boxing Day!” we’d say to each other, not knowing exactly the history of “Boxing Day.”

So, today, I’ve been giving everybody good “Boxing Day” wishes through email and other wise. Even to a Canadian friend and fellow writer, as I sent her a copy of my book, 10$, and a contract for a poem she wrote for Death In Common. Then, I start wondering — why do the Brits and Canadians have a bank holiday on 26th? I googled and cringed at the results:

…the one thread common to all is the theme of one-way provision to those not inhabiting the same social level. As mentioned previously, equals exchanged gifts on Christmas Day or before, but lessers (be they tradespeople, employees, servants, serfs, or the generic “poor”) received their “boxes” on the day after. It is to be noted that the social superiors did not receive anything back from those they played Lord Bountiful to: a gift in return would have been seen as a presumptuous act of laying claim to equality, the very thing Boxing Day was an entrenched bastion against. Boxing Day was, after all, about preserving class lines.

So, in short, I’ve been treating everybody as if they were either my servant or of a lower social economic class, today. Yes, I’m a complete and total, grade-A .moron. I’ve already sent a quickly worded apology to that Canadian friend of mine. And this blog post is my general mea-culpa to the world

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