Spending July 4 in another country has its ups and its downs. The annual gathering of the Baptist World Alliance is commonly held the first week of July, meaning that I’m usually in another country when July 4 rolls around.

Last year I ate lunch in a swirling snowstorm outside of Santiago, Chile. This year it’s the tropical breezes of  Jamaica, and I hadn’t even thought of what day it was until I noticed the lobby and the major dining area decorated with red, white, and blue bunting and balloons. Even the lights over the carving station were color-coded.

I don’t know what makes a hotel in Jamaica decorate for America’s national holiday, but it was a nice touch. I wasn’t required to attend any meetings during the morning and early afternoon on Thursday, so I embarked on a packaged bus tour that included Dunn’s River Falls and the Coyoba Botanical Gardens in Ocho Rios.

What they didn’t tell me until after I plunked down $50 for the ticket – indeed, until I got on the bus – is that more than half of the five-hour tour would be spent shopping at the “Pineapple Craft Fair” and the “Taj Mahal” shopping center.

The Taj Mahal is a ten-minute walk from my hotel, and another large craft fair is even closer.

I was not happy to learn this.

What’s worse, when we finally got to Dunn’s River Falls, where the adventure is a 950-foot climb up a series of fast-moving falls tumbling down a stepped and occasionally steep limestone face, the guide and an accompanying videographer peddling DVDs of the climb sought to enforce exuberance on the 20 or so people in the group.

“Good afternoon!” (weak response)

Louder: “I didn’t like that. I said, ‘Good afternoon!’” (stronger response)

“If you’re glad to be in Jamaica, say “Yeh-mon!” (“Yeh-mon”)

Louder: “If you’re glad to be in Jamaica, say “Yeh-mon!” (“Yeh-mon!”)

This led to ongoing demands for hand waving, fist pumping, slogan shouting and water splashing, with various exhortations to be the wettest and most fun group on the falls – in other words, to act like drunken fools.

Some participants, who perhaps had imbibed too heavily of free rum samples at the last shopping stop, had no problem acting the role of happy inebriates.

Can you guess I was not among them? I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, for the most part, but I think it’s quite possible to have fun without whooping and shouting “yeh-mon” at every turn, and I intrinsically resist coerced jubilation. When the overly animated videographer kicked water in our faces near the head of the hand-holding human chain as we tried to negotiate a tricky climb, I had some “not fun” words with him about endangering guests, and he refrained from face-splashing the rest of the group.

Imposed enthusiasm lacks genuineness and fails to appreciate that varying people find and express their joy in different ways.  

That’s true on July 4 or any other day in the U.S., as well. One doesn’t have to hang a flag by the front door, attend a parade, or crank up “I’m proud to be an American” on the stereo in order to be patriotic, for example. One doesn’t have to favor a particular political party or love a good war to be judged a good citizen.

I count myself incredibly lucky to have been born in America, especially after visiting so many places where people are not so fortunate. I don’t wear a flag pin on my lapel, but when I enter or leave another country, I’m always proud to present my passport from the good old U.S. of A.

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