Living overseas requires getting used to a new calendar. We work through Christmas like it’s barely a blip on the radar screen. But then we get unexpected days off. International Women’s Day? Nauryz? Victory Day? We might not feel the significance in quite the same way as holidays we grew up with, but we can all appreciate a day off.
Wife: What are we celebrating?
Me: Beats me. Pass the shashlik.
It reminds me of a conversation I overheard about patriotic holidays when I worked at a mortgage company in Los Angeles.
Colleague A: So what exactly is the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day?
Colleague B: Uhh…I think one is for veterans and the other is for people in the military. Or maybe vice versa; I don’t remember.
Colleague A: But isn’t that the same thing?
Colleague B: There’s a subtle difference. You see, on Memorial Day we watch parades and grill steaks, and on Veterans’ Day we grill steaks and watch parades.
Colleague A: Oh, I see. And the same goes for the Fourth of July, too, I suppose.
Colleague B: No, no. The Fourth of July is totally different. We go to parades, grill steaks and watch fireworks.
The most recent holiday here in Central Asia was “The Day of Unity of All Peoples,” which is quite a mouthful to say and even more difficult in Russian. It’s basically the let’s-try-to-get-along holiday, but with a majority ethnic group of almost 70%, it’s a good holiday to have.
The funny thing was that this holiday fell on a Thursday, causing a calendar crisis. On the one hand it seemed wrong to the government to give people Thursday off only to have them come back to work the next day to finish out the week. But on the other hand, giving people Thursday and Friday off meant a loss of productivity and an all-too-generous four days off in a row. The solution? Take three days off in a row but come to work on Sunday.
When I was first told six years ago that the government had declared Sunday a work day to make up for a Friday holiday, I felt like my human rights were being deeply violated. I knew that if the American government told its citizens they needed to work on Sunday, most people would laugh. The rest would riot in the streets.
But recently I mentioned to someone in the States (via Skype) that I’m working on Sunday to make up for an extra day off earlier in the week. The comment just rolled off my tongue like it was the most normal thing in the world to contort the calendar. Gone was the deep-seated offense. Gone was the shock.
Along with everyone else, I dutifully went to work on Sunday…and grilled some steaks.