In France, I had the privilege of partaking in two very big and two quintessentially ‘French’ holidays: the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and Bastille Day. In the US, I’ve always regarded the World Cup with passing interest–watching a match here and there if it involved the US. Most of the time I did this out of a mild sense of patriotism, rather than want. Moreover, from everything I learned in class, the most I could make of Bastille Day was that it was probably the French equivalent to the Fourth of July that we have here at home. With these preconceived notions in mind, I wasn’t expecting to receive much cultural insight by experiencing them in person.
Now I know what many of you may be thinking–assuming you’re an average hotdog, baseball, apple pie, and Chevy-loving American like myself: Did he just call the World Cup a holiday? Well your curiosity is certainly not without merit. At least in my experience, soccer–in general–has never been held on the same pedestals as are football, baseball, basketball, and hockey in this country. That is why I ignored my host parents’ warning about getting home early the night of Algeria’s first soccer match–yes, not France’s, Algeria’s.
While exploring the city with some of my new friends that night, we were surprised when we ran into an intense scene of cheering, large crowds, and fireworks. Algeria just won its first round match, and the large Algerian population in the area was celebrating the victory. It was quite the site, and it was to be repeated in exactly the same fashion one day later when France won its first round match, as well. In all my years of watching sports, I never witnessed a fan-base as devoted as these countrymen and women. In fact, the commotion from the city on each of the nights that either France or Algeria won a game was loud enough to ensure that I would not be able to sleep at all.
When Bastille Day finally arrived, I had already been in France for quite a few weeks. Indeed, I was there long enough to see how the country explodes in a fit of patriotism after every FIFA match. Thus, I was thoroughly anticipating an encore display of this patriotism for Bastille Day, which I had always assumed was just France’s version of the Fourth of July.
In a sense Bastille Day, I could feel, IS France’s version of the Fourth of July. However, don’t let that mislead you. While the day did turn out to be full of patriotic themed parades and events–and even had a large firework display and concert to top off the night– the attitude associated with Bastille Day is not quite the same. It is a much more sober day. In fact, I was corrected after wishing my host parents a “Joyeuse Fête Nationale”, or, effectively, Happy Bastille Day. The reasoning behind this attitude is linked to the history of the day, so I was told. This holiday is in remembrance of the beginning of the French Revolution, when citizens stormed the Bastille in Paris. Over the years, it’s also grown into a sort of service in memorial of all those who have died for the country, similar to Memorial Day.
Celebrating both of these holidays in person expanded my cultural awareness so much more than I had originally thought, and helped deepen my understanding of French culture.