It’s Remembrance Day tomorrow! I wish I could experience all the regular traditions here, but I know the public celebrations are cancelled because of COVID-19. Still, I have made a resolution to learn more about Canada’s role in WWI and WWII once things calm down with getting settled. Okay, I know the flower emoji I’m using in the titles is a hibiscus, but I looked it up and it said that’s acceptable to use it in replacement of a poppy for Remembrance Day. Meanwhile, tech companies need to catch on and create culturally appropriate emojis to make them available for different cultures.
Note: I’m saying Remembrance Day in my post because that’s what it’s called in Canada, except when I’m talking about England. One thing that is making me chuckle right now is learning the meanings and slang terms of different words in Canada. Sometimes, I have to learn another term for something, when I already know two other forms of it in American English and English English! Remembrance Day is one of them because it’s called Armistice Day in the UK and Veterans Day in the US. I won’t say much about how it’s celebrated in the US, because frankly, it pales in comparison to both the UK and Canada, as far as I have seen.
I’m rather embarrassed to admit this, but I never bought a poppy in England. I made up for it this time and got a poppy last week! Next time I’m in England in November, I will get a poppy! I like how the poppies look here. It’s different from England though. In England, the poppies have a stem on them and they have that definite European poppy look. I think that’s fair considering you see those poppies all the time in Europe.
It snowed last weekend. I took a walk in a park near where I live and took some pictures. I noticed when I looked at a selfie that I did that it would be nice to put a poppy frame around it, so I did! I’m glad the snow came back! I think it makes a difference in the photo.
I noticed one thing that is unique to Canada a few days ago. November 8 was Indigenous Veterans Day. I thought that was really cool, considering we don’t have that in the US. I hope someday the US creates a holiday to honour its Indigenous veterans too. Plus, I think they should have days to honour their Black veterans and immigrant veterans.
I ran into this news item a few days ago saying that Whole Foods (which is now owned by Amazon) said their Canadian staff couldn’t wear poppies because it violated the dress code. They thought poppies were a political symbol. I know there was already a backlash from employees this year who were punished for wearing Black Lives Matter masks. I flipped out when I heard about this! Poppies are NOT a political symbol here, or in any country that wears them for November 11! Thank goodness the Canadian government told Whole Foods to reverse the ban on poppies!
It’s not the first time, I have seen cultural controversy about poppies though. In November 2010, David Cameron offended Xi Jinping when he went on an official trip to China despite being asked not to wear it. Poppies are offensive in China, because of the opium wars. It’s one of those cultural mistakes that could have been avoided if David Cameron hadn’t been so bloody proud! Sometimes, I think individual expats and Third Culture Kids are more culturally sensitive than global businesses or governments.
I want to take a step back here and talk about what I remember about Armistice Day in England.
When I first moved to England, I noticed things around me that were reminiscent of WWII. In school, we observed the 2-minute silence at 11 AM on November 11. One time, I was at my local library, and all these people who had lived during the war were having a discussion about rationing. I didn’t really pay attention to the things around me that were reminiscent of WWII for a while, and I didn’t understand the poppy symbolism for a while either. Plus, after coming from a country that had engaged in all these useless wars, and then instituted a Patriot Act after 9/11, I was against anything pro-military.
Then, when I was 16, I became really good friends with my neighbour who was a little girl during WWII. She told me all the stories she had about it. Some of them were funny. Some of them were sad. Overall, it was a very personal and human experience.
I had a complete change in mindset about the war too. Both my grandfathers were in the US Navy, so up until I moved to England, I had a US perspective on the war. After I had lived in England for a while, I was rather disgusted when I said to one of my grandfathers that England had won the war, and he said, “But they didn’t!”
My neighbour shared that she didn’t mind the Americans coming because they were needed to help win the war. She remembered the Americans were always giving the kids gum! She did say, in a culturally sensitive way, that there was a lot of resentment towards Americans for showing up late AGAIN and then taking the credit! I saw it for myself too. I could see that England, as a culture, has a lot of pride in what they did to stand up to Hitler. They deserve to have that pride. They got hit hard with The Blitz and rationing, but they came together and stood up to fascism. What they went through was far different than the US, who sent their boys overseas. Now, I am very pro-England when I hear about WWI and WWII history, and I adopted that when I became a British citizen. One of my favourite shows about England during WWII is Foyle’s War. It’s a wonderful tribute to that war generation.
One thing I like about Armistice Day in England is that people still stand outside stores and sell poppies. It’s great for older people to do an activity like that, especially since a lot of them were of that war generation. I had a friend who was born shortly after the war, but she loved selling poppies every November! She was very sociable, so she got a lot of customers, plus she had the endurance to stand in the winter rain! She was one tough cookie! My friend died almost two years ago of cancer. At her funeral, her colleagues from the Royal British Legion laid a poppy wreath on her grave to thank her for her volunteer service. I’m remembering both my neighbour and my friend at this time.
Since I am still learning about Canadian WWI and WWII history and Remembrance Day traditions, I don’t feel I am in a place to say too much about them. I’ll do a post about it next year though. I’m looking forward to learning how that fits with the British part too and celebrate those sides of myself.
In closing, I’m going to put a link to the poem that started the poppy tradition. It’s been at the forefront of my attention now that I know it was written by a Canadian. Please enjoy the work of physician Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae!
In Flanders fields the poppies blow Between the crosses, row on row, That mark our place; and in the sky The larks, still bravely singing, fly Scarce heard amid the guns below. We are the Dead. Short days ago We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, Loved and were loved, and now we lie, In Flanders fields. Take up our quarrel with the foe: To you from failing hands we throw The torch; be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die We shall not sleep, though poppies grow In Flanders fields.