Confessions of an Expatriate on the Fourth of July


Fireworks at the Eiffel Tower, Bastille Day Paris

Fireworks at the Eiffel Tower © Irene |

I have to admit it to you all, these last five years have drastically affected my celebrations of the Fourth of July and Bastille Day in Paris. Who’d have imagined that I, lover of all things that explode, would one day not observe the Fourth of July, only to have it replaced by the French independence day? How blasphemous is that for a true-blue American in Paris?
Back in the day I was one of those flag-headband-wearing morons, whooping and hollering, oohing and aahing during the national holiday, and how I long to be that idiotic again. But alas, nary a flag headband is to be found on this side of the pond, or if they exist, they’re well hidden from the likes of me! It was just so lonely waving my little American flag around the office that I gave up on the Fourth of July altogether, and I really tried not to think about what I was missing.
But this year I plan to change all that. I will still have to forgo the fireworks on the Fourth itself, and do without the ridiculous head attire, but by God I shall celebrate no less enthusiastically than my compatriots back home!
No more shall I be an “ex-patriot” expatriate! Why this change of heart, you ask? I suppose I owe it to my American friends here. They’ve inspired me to enjoy the day, since I’m pretty sure I won’t be the only one longing to go to a park and crack open a beer.
It’s the heart (and hops) that counts, not the headwear, right? To me, the very best way to enjoy any holiday is with family and friends. Since the fam won’t be joining, I think we’ll all have to drink their share of Miller and eat their portion of fried chicken and watermelon. Patriotism demands sacrifice. I never said this would be easy.
In Wisconsin I would be tailgating in Madison and watching one of the largest fireworks displays in the country. No topping that, really—who am I kidding? But we shall do what any flag-waving American would do in a nation where private fireworks displays aren’t allowed: we’ll try to scrounge up a few sparklers anyway and wait until we’re good and drunk before lighting them, fines be damned.
Sparklers should be easy enough to come by, but I will definitely miss going to those roadside stands and begging Dad to buy me a pack of explosives larger than my head. (Ah, kids. We never cease to find new and interesting ways to risk blowing ourselves up.)

Air display, Champs Elysées, Bastille Day in Paris

Flyover at the Champs Elysées© Ammar Abd Rabbo |

The Bastille Day celebrations are no slouch, either. There are plenty of events to keep you busy on July 13 and 14 in Paris this year!
Before the main attractions, Parisians get things going with an enormous outdoor dance party on July 13 at place de la Bastille. I must be getting old, because a crazy outdoor dance party is less appealing to me than getting a bikini wax, but hey, if that’s your bag! There’s also a parade down the Champs Elysées that draws the rather overwhelming crowds you’d expect. Maybe I’ll swing by this year if I’m feeling brave. The flyover would be awesome to see in person!
As always, there will be fireworks, which are best viewed from the Champ de Mars (the park at the base of the Eiffel Tower). Maybe I’ll go early with a blanket and snacks to claim a spot and have an all-day picnic! One year I watched them from the bridge near the Passy metro. But you don’t get to hear the music that accompanies the show if you pick that spot or some other high-up location.
What I’m most looking forward to this year are the firemen’s galas. On July 13 and 14, the firemen open up their firehouses to everyone. This will be my first time going, and my friends are already debating which ones are the best to check out. There are parties all over the city—just pick your neighborhood and enjoy!
When Bastille Day comes on July 14, I have to confess that a part of me will be watching the fireworks as a red-blooded American. I guess I didn’t realize how much I’ve missed it until this year. From now on I promise, NAY pledge, that no matter how many years I spend in Paris celebrating Bastille Day with the French, the Fourth of July will always come first.

Shannon Vettes celebrating the Fourth of July

The author sporting one of her flag headbands on the Fourth of July.

Related link:
Firemen’s gala