On the way back from the trip to celebrate our fifteenth wedding anniversary, we stopped at Heathrow for a layover. We landed there on the morning of 11th November.
That particular day is called Remembrance Day in the United Kingdom. Throughout the morning, the PA in the airport made regular announcements that two-minutes of silence would be observed at eleven o'clock, to remember those who had died in service to their country. Shortly before the clock struck eleven, a poem was read by the recorded voice of a little girl. There was a bugle melody played that I did not recognize. Then, the airport fell silent.
I'm a little bit of a history nerd. I like reading and learning about the past. I'm also fascinated by foreign (to me) people, cultures, food, and traditions. I say these things to assure you that I paid attention to this event, and took care to watch the people around me during these two minutes of silence.
Many people stood, immediately upon hearing the music and/or poem. I can't remember which of those two things happened first, but I remember seeing people stand up right away, something which felt Pavlovian to me. These people were mostly adults and the elderly. They were also overwhelmingly of the, shall we say, non-melanated persuasion. You see, Heathrow is an international airport that connects many parts of the world, so there are folks of every imaginable culture around, and you hear a wonderful symphony of different languages being spoken when there isn't an observed silence. Seated individuals who were definitely not British - myself included - did not stand. People who were moving about, whether they were walking or shopping, tended to stop doing so... except there were plenty of individuals who did not. I was somewhat amused to see a few youthful individuals who were in their late teens or early twenties look around at what was happening, and then eventually join the folks who were standing. It seemed to me that they joined in because of it being a socially suggested thing to do. When the period of silence had concluded, there was general applause from those who were on their feet. The older people applauded the most fervently, and a few of them wiped away tears.
The reason this observance happens at eleven o'clock on the eleventh day of the eleventh month is this is when the armistice that silenced the guns of The Great War came into effect. That particular conflict killed 6% of the adult male population of the United Kingdom, clearly leaving an impression on the collective psyche. As I looked at the delightfully diverse array of people around me, I wondered if this event is observed in their home countries. The Great War was fought in multiple places, but most of the slaughter happened in Europe. I wondered about the tragic irony of the colonized coming to the land of the colonizers to die in their war.
In the United States, this day is a federal holiday called Veterans Day. How many citizens of the United States could tell you why this particular observance is on 11th November or where it originates? Likely, very few. The way we as humans remember, well, that's very different from place to place. It is perhaps affected more by the propaganda we grow up hearing than by what may have actually happened.