Un-American Independence Day

What are Fourth of July celebrations like abroad?

Hillary Clinton announced in June that, for the first time since 1979, Iranian diplomats could be invited to July Fourth celebrations at American embassies and consulates. It was all for naught: None of those invitations were accepted, and then the State Department rescinded them in the wake of post-election violence in Tehran. Why all the fuss? What are embassy- and consulate-run July Fourth parties like, anyway?

Like stateside celebrations, more or less. All over the world, American diplomatic posts hold Independence Day events that are designed to mimic traditional celebrations. Revelers eat backyard barbeque staples, listen to patriotic music, and, at the better-financed parties, watch fireworks. A typical menu includes hamburgers, hot dogs, and build-your-own-sundae bars. Lots of red, white, and blue balloons are in evidence, and the ranking American delivers remarks about the value of democracy.

Overseas parties are heavy on pomp and circumstance. Marine security guards present the colors, and someone sings “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Embassies near military bases may enlist the services of military bands for even more elaborate performances. In some cities, the July Fourth party is the hot ticket of the summer, and invitees (including local leaders, journalists, and other ambassadors) turn out in elaborate religious regalia or full military dress. A few American expats may be included in the festivities, but the ceremonies are more about promoting the United States to foreigners than celebrating it with citizens.

The fact that international July Fourth celebrations require the planning and participation of American diplomats means that for many embassy employees, the events are less an excuse to party than an opportunity to schmooze in a different setting. Often the official event won’t take place on the Fourth at all. The big ceremony will be that week, but the embassy will close on July 4 itself to allow for more casual gatherings, which generally involve less speech-making and more beer.

Explainer thanks the public affairs division of the U.S. Department of State.