In many ways, Switzerland is really different from the US. Still, I defy you to find a person in either country who doesn’t love a good barbecue. And just as many folks celebrate Swiss National Day on August 1st with a BBQ, fireworks, and family and friends, many Americans celebrate our Independence Day – the 4th of July – in similar fashion. During our first year as expats in Europe, we learned you truly only need a few basic things to celebrate a fantastic American 4th of July in Switzerland.
Throughout June, we didn’t plan on having a get-together for the 4th. Trav had lost his job, our immigration status was very much in question, and we knew we’d be moving in three short weeks. Quite a few of our friends were traveling or not available over the weekend, and as always, our lack of planning left little notice for others.
But with nudging from friends, we threw something together at the last minute. We’re so glad we did! As we learned from the experience, here are some “must-haves” for your own 4th of July American BBQ in Switzerland – or wherever you may be an expat!
1. BBQ Fixin’s
If you’re having a BBQ, you kinda need to BBQ some stuff.
Whether that be veggies for your vegan friends or classic American bacon cheeseburgers stuffed with spices, garlic, and onions (Trav’s specialty and my favorite burgers in the world), you need the fixin’s. If you don’t have a grill, you don’t have a BBQ, and you don’t have a right proper 4th of July celebration.
This year we had a potluck, as always. We supplied the basics of a typical American BBQ (burgers and sides), and guests brought a fun array of non-traditional European dishes. It’s definitely the first time we’ve had Bavarian potato salad, homemade Tiramisu for dessert, and Caprese salad on the 4th of July.
Though this certainly isn’t a hard and fast rule, it’s nice to include some Americans in your July 4th celebration.
Of course, if you opt not to, it’s that much more flattering that you’re celebrating our Independence Day. Perhaps you have a thing against Redcoats. Perhaps you like rooting for the underdog. Or perhaps you just like any excuse to have a BBQ.
Whatever the case may be, we’re not judging.
FYI: If you ever need some token Americans for your 4th party, we’d be happy to come!
3. Beer Pong
This was the first party we’ve ever been to where we were the only ones who had played beer pong. Even the other American couple at our party hadn’t, likely because they’re much more dignified than we are. They had fun watching, though, and our guests rotated through teams of two to battle it out for the championship.
As with many things invented in America, beer pong is a drinking game, and it’s really simple. The goal is to bounce a ping-pong down a long table and try to land it in one of several cups of beer. If you make the shot, the other team drinks that glass of beer. First team to sink all their shots wins.
For those who don’t much care for beer (like me), downing Jell-O shots is a nice alternative to drinking beer.
What’s a Jell-O shot? See must-have #5 below for a successful 4th of July in Switzerland.
4. A Pool
Even if you only have a kiddie pool, technically you can still call it a “pool party.”
When the temps are in the mid-90s, which is unseasonably hot in Switzerland, your guests will appreciate having a cool soak for their feet. Braver guests – or those who are a bit more inebriated – may opt for an evening of skinny dipping.
And of course, it makes a nice watering bowl for your pets.
5. Jell-O Shots
Any good party should have Jell-O shots, not just a 4th of July party.
Unfortunately, we discovered that Jell-O is an American invention and is primarily manufactured for the North American market. In other words, good luck finding it in Switzerland!
For folks who aren’t familiar with Jell-O, it’s just a little packet of flavored powder that when mixed with boiling water and chilled in the fridge becomes a tasty, typically fruity, soft and wiggly gelatin snack.
Kids love it.
Folks in Utah can’t get enough of it, so much so that it’s officially the state’s official snack food.
When you replace part of the boiling water with alcohol – preferably rum or vodka – and chill it, you get a tasty adult snack.
Lacking Jell-O, Travis instead tried using a mixture of blueberries, strawberries, cream, and agar to make a fruit purée before spiking it with alcohol. After several hours of frustration and a thrashed kitchen, he ended up with really cute red, white, and blue agar shots.
Doesn’t exactly have the same ring to it, does it?
They were edible, but the texture was a bit agary.
6. Wait Staff
Nothing impresses guests more than having wait staff on hand to see to their every need.
A proper well-trained wait staff member can guard your guests’ shoes or warm a lap.
Plus, they can taste-test dishes – typically when you’re not looking – to make sure they’re satisfactory.
7. Overnight Accommodations
It’s always a good idea to make sure your bartender has a place to sleep in case he, or other guests, can’t make it home. This is particularly important in Switzerland where the trains don’t run all night and when you live in the boonies where the train doesn’t even go.
Bottom line, you can measure the success of any party by how long it lasts. If you end up with overnight house guests or an active all-nighter, you’ve got yourself a bona fide successful party.
And the #1 ingredient for a happy American 4th of July in Switzerland?
It’s ok to substitute family for this one or to mix the two, but this one’s important. A 4th of July party without people you like to hang out with doesn’t make for a good party.
Though there’s nothing wrong with having an intimate event with a few very close friends, it’s not a party if you’re home alone roasting your hot dog over a candle.
Invite some people. If you think your place is too small, it isn’t. If you don’t have all the things above for a great party, just fudge it like we did.
The birth of our country is a special day. It deserves to be celebrated.
If you just keep these eight tips in mind, you’re sure to throw the perfect party to celebrate an American 4th of July in Switzerland.