St. Paddy’s Day Parade in London

March 2023

“When you travel to another country, you are not actually getting to know the host culture, you are getting to know your culture of origin.” ~ to paraphrase Edward T. Hall

I was born in Vietnam, raised in Australia, and have lived in Alaska for the last 15 years.

I often say that I am re-defining what it means to be Vietnamese,
that I am re-defining what it means to be Australian,
that I am re-defining what it means to be Alaskan and, by extension, a United Statesian.

And yet, all of this re-definition (outwards) is the by-product of a continuous, internal alchemical process in response to the environment.

This trip has caused for me to become aware of how Australian culture is so incredibly infused with British culture….and how clearly acculturated I’ve become to so many British traditions.

I was in central London, and there was a parade on. In the distance, I saw lots of green – the hue of bright springtime grass across rolling hills, and the colour of the leaves of daffodils and lily whites and crocuses - and figured it some Irish thing. Because obviously green equals Ireland, duh!

I ignored the parade because, I don’t like crowds.

And then…..

And I go running towards the crowd.


I have many memories, as a child, of Tara Screeche-Powell’s father, playing his pipes, in full regalia. With pride, and with longing. Calling in his ancestors. To help him raise four girls, far from home. To help him to remember who he is and where he comes from.

I often think of the bagpipes as a male version of keening - the wailing of grief – moved through an organ held close to the body.

Every single Anzac Day, Armistice Day, Australia Day….on all Australian federal government holidays and celebrations, the bagpipes come out. A reminder of an ancestry - of a cultural heritage and tradition - to which I did not belong.

And yet, here I am, running towards the call of the bagpipes.


The bagpipes on St Paddy’s Day, NYC 2011 (not my recording)

I’m watching the parade. None of the other parade floats or Irish musical traditions interest me, it was just the bagpipes.

I notice that, nearby, are two bobbies (English police officers), affably chatting and laughing with each other.

Now, I’m a body psychotherapist, and I immediately notice that there was nothing in their body language that said: “I’m in charge. You should be scared of me. Behave or else.”

Their hands were not in close proximity to their weapons. Their legs were not in readiness for running. Their eyes were not hyper vigilantly scanning the crowd for threat or potential danger.

Their bodies were turned towards each other, indicating that they were more interested in each other, than the crowd. They were shooting the breeze, having a jolly time at a parade….LOLLY-GAGGING IT, TO THE MAX, while on the job.

I watch individuals approaching them, like you would a mate, and ask questions like, ”Say, I wanna get over there [points to the other side of the parade area and further down the road], waddya reckon?”

And, like a helpful mate, the bobbies would offer a helpful response.

At no point in time - during the approach, the interaction, or the parting of ways – did I perceive any shift towards heightened alert in anyone.

At no point in time, did I see the body language or hear the verbal language of deference or submission or “respect”. No “sir” or “madam” or “ma’am”.


I scan the crowd. Everyone was oblivious that the bobbies were there. Not in a denial-as-protection way - “If I don’t see you, then you’re not real.” - but rather a nonchalant “meh” way. Just other bodies in the space, enjoying a parade, with some extra civic responsibilities.

***They’re not trained to fear the cops over here, just like the Australia that I grew up in. And the cops aren’t trained to fear the public.***

I flash back to memories of New Year’s Eves in the center of Melbourne. Total public drunken revelry and cheer, supported by a robust public transport infrastructure that runs all night, to help people to party responsibly.

We have a tradition in Australia on New Year’s Eve: Kiss-A-Copper. Come midnight, after the countdown, you’re supposed to find a police officer and give him a big, wet, drunken smooch on his face somewhere. I bet, these days, there are selfies involved, too.

ANZAC Day 2015 Sydney Massed Pipe Bands

Irish Defense Forces Pipe Band


I remember, during my graduate studies at Simmons University in Boston, feeling stunned in hearing students referring to our teachers as “Professor + Last Name” and “Doctor + Last Name”. Some teachers <even bigger shock> wanted to be referred to as “Doctor + Last Name”, and even signed their emails this way.

It took me a while to unpack my physical visceral response: my body perceived this as a move of dominance and subjugation, framed within my (Australian) cultural context where I have never used the words “sir” or “madam”…..or “Doctor + Last Name” (other than my family doctor of 30 years) or “Professor + Last Name”.

What I have come to understand is that, in the US, showing respect means putting someone above you. Being respected means having people put you above them. It’s all about knowing your place, in a hierarchy.

In the Australia that I grew up in, being respected means being regarded as an equal.


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