Alternative Perspective

A look at British culture from an outside perspective and a look at American culture from an outsider living within it's borders.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Hose can you see the fireworks?

How topical eh? It being the fourth of July and me posting about fireworks and all that! First of all I wanted to do a little update about St George's day in England. I was told yesterday that this year it was celebrated properly. The day was made a holiday, bars were given licenses to stay open later than normal and people were encouraged to fly flags and apparently a lot of people did. That's great news if you ask me, even if I'm mostly pleased because someone actually went out and did something instead of complaining. Go England!

So yesterday, Katy wanted to go see the fireworks, and despite every cell in my body telling me it's the wrong time of year for them, away we went. Here in Massachusett's fireworks are illegal to sell, so you can only go to official displays. Even then they're done offshore on floating platforms by the local fire department. Not having ever witnessed offshore firework displays before moving here, I can say that the reflection of the water does add nicely to the overall affect of things.

In England we don't have the Fourth of July fireworks thing, obviously, we have a slightly more bizarre holiday called Guy Fawkes. It falls on the 5th of November and totally undermines Halloween year in and year out much to my annoyance. Again it's not an official holiday so you don't get the day off, even though it is one where people actually do things. England can be a bit weird like that. May Day, nobody does a thing, but you get that one off.

Guy Fawkes was the only one of the conspirators who attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament in England in some 16 something or other. Maybe it was 17 something or other. A while ago anyway. They put a crap load of gunpowder underneath and the guy left to light it, got caught. Something like that anyway. The history is a bit argued. One thing that is agreed on is that it wasn't just Guy who did it. He was the only one caught and took the full blame back in the past.

Somehow this all translated into a night where we build a big bonfire, burn an effegy of Guy and let off fireworks. It's called Bonfire night as much as it is Guy Fawkes night, and I'm sure some people call it Firework night.

Last one I was in England for though, the fireworks started around the first of October, and lasted every night until about mid November. Every year some kid blows off his hand trying to throw fireworks at strangers in the street. After that one they proposed a bunch of laws to prevent that type of thing going on. I'm not sure if it had the desired effect.

The big difference is that fireworks are sold in corner shops up and down the country, which makes it very easy to get a hold of.

I couple of fireworks displays stick in my mind. One had the barriers too close to where the fireworks were being launched from. The wind was blowing towards the crowds and just about everyone got eyes full of ash. Ash is raining out the sky and you're looking up to see fireworks. It wasn't so great.

What was a lot more fun was a different display where some of the fireworks tipped over and launched into the crowd where I was standing. Nobody got hurt, but seeing a mob of people running away, screaming, as huge white trails whizz around their legs and explode was bloody funny even for me, running along with them.

There are though some rather fundamental differences between how the British do fireworks and how the American's do them. Naturally. That's what the blog is about after all right?

In England fireworks would usually mean a crappy funfair. The kind that sells pork sausages in a huge bun and call them hot dogs. They aren't generally accompanied by music. They just stand by themselves, and people go 'oooooh' when an espescially pretty one goes off.

America, well at least around where I live, does things differently. First of all they do it on a much bigger scale. They shoot off massive fireworks bigger than I ever saw in England, and they do it synchronised (mostly) to bad songs about how great America is (there are good songs about the countries finer qualities but fireworks seem to demand the cheesiest ones), themes from Steven Spielberg and George Lucas movies, and bizarely, the themes from TV shows and songs from Disney movies.

Oh and Grease songs... though of course they edit them so children don't have to ponder what 'the chicks will cream' means. You know, cause if you're watching fireworks, you'd instantly think about getting wet with desire and turn into some kind of sexual deviant because you heard a Grease song. When I was a little kid, I and everyone I knew, knew the words to the songs from Grease (in my defense I had an older sister) but we just didn't know what they meant.

Fireworks in America do stuff that you wouldn't believe either. Like make Smiley faces when they explode, or bizarre as anything else, CUBES. Bloody impressive when you think about it. They make interlocking circles and they make circles with stars inside of them.

And of course, the only ones that getting applauded are the ones that blow up really big and don't do anything else.

If you reacted with surprise at the inclusion of the word 'applauded' in that previous sentance, well, I'm going to guess you aren't American.

Americans applauded fireworks. It's the strangest thing. I don't mean at the end, they applaud the people that made the display. That's not what I mean. I mean during the display, if there's an espescially big firework, the audience applaud. This is a particularly American thing. Applauding when there's no one there to hear the applause but the people applauding.

They do it after films too. Or even more bizarre, they applaud along with an audience at a quiz show when they get a question right.

Back though to the fireworks. There's nothing wrong with applauding fireworks of course, it just seems a little silly to someone from a culture where applause doesn't mean 'I liked that' but instead is meant to show the person or people who did something you liked that you liked it.

Sometimes it seems that people just seem to clap because everyone else is. That however doesn't just go for America.

So the fireworks were spectacular, the music a lot less so, and all in all I think it was a better show last year. Still... fireworks that explode into cubes... you have to wonder what they'll have next time don't you?


At 3:09 PM, Blogger katy said...

i think you meant Jose, my dear

At 3:18 PM, Blogger katy said...

green cubes in fact. and you didn't mention (because perhaps it's not relevant, or peopleses in england are similar in this respect) that hardly a single person knows the words to that oh beautiful for spacious skys and amber blahs of blah, yet everyone seems to know that under the sea song from the littler mermaid and the Cheers theme song...

At 9:00 AM, Blogger Unimaginative Pseudonym said...

I'll have you know that I celebrate mayday every year, and definitely take advantage of the Bank Holiday. What with it being my birthday and everything...

Just a quick clarification for you, though - the 'guy' we burn every bonfire night is actually an effigy of The Pope; which also explains why we burn him (because Guy Fawkes, a Papist, was actually hung, drawn and quartered) - to keep the Catholics in their place.

Most people aren't really aware of this, though. Odd, that.


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