Fourth of July is a tough one for me. Living abroad has its perks, but it also has many days where you can’t help but feel frustrated and homesick. The holidays magnify these feelings and, since the UK celebrates New Year’s, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, and Easter, it’s just the outside holidays that put me over the edge. Thanksgiving is tough, but I’m usually preoccupied with cooking, but Fourth of July, that’s a different story.
Last year, I made the mistake of attending the most British event ever on my country’s Independence Day. I went to the Henley regatta where posh Brits sip Pimms and have polite little picnics. It would have been amazing any other day, but on July 4th, I needed something more. I needed to be surrounded by patriotic Americans, waving flags, having rowdy BBQs, and lighting off loud and bright fireworks. I wasn’t going to find that in England, so I brought my own little piece of America to last year’s regatta.
I got up extra early and made an American flag cake for my picnic contribution. You know, the sheet cake that’s decorated with blueberry stars and strawberry stripes. I carefully placed each sliced tiny fruit onto that cake as if it was my duty as an American. I did this while blasting Toby Keith and sobbing. True story. Later, at the regatta, I got wasted and drunkenly offered a piece of my flag cake to any regatta spectator I came across. I ended up trading a couple pieces for a nice pair of men’s dress socks at one of the clothing booths. I was a mess.
So, this year, knowing how vulnerable the Fourth of July makes me, I went a different route and tried to find an American activity where I could be among my own kind and feel at home. My two American girlfriends and I stumbled upon Balthazar’s Fourth of July lunch. The sibling to one of New York’s favorite restaurants was paying tribute to the good ol’ US of A. Not only did they have an American-themed set menu, but the whole experience was FREE if you wore Stars and Stripes! I was very excited, but should have known that nothing was going to fill the void of missing my nation’s birthday party.
Balthazar is cool. It’s open and relaxed, elegant and classic. The perfect mix of a French bistro with a New York City vibe. It’s larger than most restaurants you’ll find in London–with high ceilings, oversized mirrors, and a grand staircase leading up to the ladies room where we took too many selfies of our Stars and Stripes ensembles. I was expecting to see a million Americans decked out for the occasion (and for the free meal) but it was kind of a letdown. I rose to the challenge, sporting an American Apparel flag tank and a striped skirt, but, aside from the waitstaff, there were only a few other red, white, and blue diners in the crowd. The staff was cute. They tried, with flag bow-ties and bandanas. It was a nice tribute coming from some heavy-accented Frenchmen.
The menu was contrived, but adorable. Offering first a drink–a Budweiser or some cocktail that had nothing to do with America, but I don’t think they knew that. Next, we had our choice of Balthazar’s gourmet versions of a hot dog, a cheeseburger, or the macaroni and cheese. I opted for the Bud bottle and burger and fries. Later, it this was all brought to a close with their take on an apple pie. My outfit was approved, so the whole experience was on the house. I threw in a tenner for gratuity and that was my Fourth of July.
So, bottom line: you can’t recreate America. While I appreciated Balthazar’s efforts and a free meal, of course, sometimes it’s easier to embrace the new than to try to be something you’ll never be. Balthazar in London will never be able to make a Fourth of July cheeseburger. They don’t have American cheese for starters, but aside from that guilty-pleasure, we all know the meat is different and the buns aren’t the same and it’s just not going to live up to what we grew up enjoying. The apple pie will not be a traditional Crisco-filled flaky pie crust, sprinkled with a layer of tapioca and generous bits of butter, with cinnamony, lemon doused apple slices. It will be a different-tasting tart. Good, but different. It’s just the way it is.
So, while Balthazar gets an A for effort, their Fourth of July celebration is not a do. It’s a poor interpretation of what American food is all about, and it will just magnify your UK frustrations. Next year, I vow to have a nice day at home, make all the American meals that I grew up with–that taste how you would expect–listen to country music, wear my flag shirt, and probably watch Talledega Nights or Joe Dirt or something redneck American that can just make me laugh. Here’s to next year!
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