Here in America, believe it or not, today is Flag Day (yes, it seems they have a day for everything here). So I thought I would take this opportunity to share with you a little something I have learnt about the flag while I’ve been here. This may be my most boring post to date, but I found this difference between American and British culture rather interesting.
Last week I was watching the news and found myself amused at one of the stories that the station was featuring that evening: a store owner had been flying an American flag, which happened to be a little old and tattered, over a ‘strip mall’ (retail park, for us English people). Here you can read the story.
That was the whole story. And it was one of the main stories of that evening. The feature included interviews with members of the surrounding community who were all deeply disgusted with the state of the flag, and who looked sadly into the camera as they told the reporters with genuine hurt how offended they were at the ordeal.
I couldn’t help but think how trivial the issue was. The point of the news story was that the flag was ‘tattered and torn’ and that it was disrespectful and insulting to the nation, to which the reporters, interviewees, and TV audience all seemed to agree.
In England, or any other country I’ve visited for that matter, people do not seem to care about their nations’ flags like the people of the USA do. Here the star spangled banner flutters from the doorway of most every home; hangs nobly outside malls, businesses and restaurants; and flies regally above every government building. You cannot drive for one minute down the street without seeing those broad stripes and bright stars at least five times.
The rest of the world, I would say, is indifferent to flags. Perhaps they might like their countries flag to some extent, but it wouldn’t go any further than that – into the kind of obsessions that the Americans show for theirs. That is why I couldn’t understand what the major concern was on this news story; about an old flag flying above an insignificant retail park, and the response of outrage that this received to me seemed like somewhat of an overreaction.
I smiled as I watched the story, snorting from time to time with derision and incredulity, when I turned my head to find Mike and Linda (the couple with whom I’m staying) solemnly shaking their heads. From then on I resisted the urge to laugh at the news feature out of respect for them. But when it was over I asked them what the big deal was.
Linda explained to me how important the flag is for the people of America, for everything it represents. She even showed me a leaflet entitled ‘When and How to Fly the Unites States Flag’ that was kept in a kitchen drawer. Here is what it says:
• The flag should be hoisted briskly and lowered ceremoniously.
• The flag is never allowed to touch the ground or the floor.
• The flag of the Unities States of America should be at the centre and at the highest point of the group when a number of flags of states or localities or pennants of societies are grouped and displayed from staffs.
• The flag should never be festooned, drawn back, nor up, in folds but always allowed to fall free.
• Never fly the flag upside down except as a signal of distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.
• The flag is never flown in inclement weather except when using an all-weather flag.
• The flag can be flown every day from sunrise to sunset and at night if illuminated properly.
• The American flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing. Therefore, the lapel flag pin, being a replica, should be worn on the left lapel near the heart.
At first I found this all kind of ridiculous and amusing, especially later when I found out there is a national annual holiday solely for the American flag. But as time went on this principle began to grow on me, and I have since become quite impressed with the attitude towards not only the flag, but the general outlook of respect and patriotism that the people of this country have for their nation.
It was recently the Queen’s diamond jubilee. All the streets in the UK were lined with Union Jacks, people threw parties and dressed in the colours of our flag. In a way I am disappointed that I was not home to take part in this – one of the rare occasions in British culture that allows for patriotism. The only other time in my life that I have felt a shared sense of loyalty and a common patriotic spirit was during the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. I think we in England could learn something from the Americans about being proud of, and respectful to our country.
Happy Flag Day!