This week we discuss Patriotism.
Our guest poster is Sarah, or Brit Gal in the USA, a Brit who found herself living off the beaten track in Oklahoma, where she replaced dodging traffic with dodging tornados.
When I first arrived in Britain, I was astonished that there were no flags flying from the office buildings, private homes, automobiles, baby-buggies, desk caddies (don't laugh, I actually had one in The States) and wheelie-bins. It seemed strange and alien, as if I had landed in some no-man's land.
Like many American's, patriotism wasn't something I was taught, I was imbued with it at birth, as if part of the birthing process includes wrapping you in an American flag (this, in my gender's case, would be just before the circumcision - ouch!) Flags flew from almost every home, we stood and faced the flag every morning, with our hands over our hearts, and pledged our allegiance to it. On the 4th of July we gathered to watch the fireworks while "Proud to Be An American" blared in the background, bringing a tear to more than a few eyes. On Memorial Day we stood proud and watched our soldiers march and then went to the graveyard ceremonies to hear "Flanders Field" read by the local high school valedictorian.
I know this post is about patriotism and not the flag, but to me (and, I suspect, many of my countrymen) they are inexorably entwined. It is so difficult to make my British acquaintances understand how we Americans feel about our flag. It isn't a piece of cloth that represents our country, it IS our country, in the same mysterious way the wafer becomes the Body of Christ during the Sacrament.
The flag is bound up in a myriad of rules and reverence and your patriotism is judged on how well you respect it. This is so ingrained that when some friends and I happened to see two young men lowering a flag by pulling it quickly down the pole, rolling it up and tossing it into the back of their van, one of my friends (a young woman) was so horrified she raced over and gave them a stern lecture, to which they submitted with appropriate humility. You don't fuck with the flag.
I never remember any of this feeling forced, or overtly jingoistic; it just seemed a natural part of my make-up. And it remains so.
Living in a land with no flags and an understated, almost apologetic patriotism was terribly disconcerting. Thank God for the last night of The Proms, when they wave flags and sing "Rule, Britannia!" otherwise I'd think they had no concept of patriotism at all.
As an American, I did what Americans do; as soon as I moved into my flat, I put up a flagpole and hung out the Stars and Stripes. I didn't do it to be different or to be noticed (although it comes in handy when giving directions to our place), I did it because that's what American's do. And now that I'm also a British citizen, I split the year 50/50 between the US and UK flags.
After so long in the UK, however, I get a heart-warming feeling when I visit The States and see rows of flags fluttering in the breeze, but I am beginning to understand why an outsider might view it with just a touch of unease, as if they have wandered into a large and zealous cult.
Brit Gal Sarah:
Moving to the USA in 2005 made me realise how low key us Brits are when it comes to patriotism. I was positively shocked at the level of patriotic fervour shown by my new home country, but I also found it oddly inspiring. In fact I soon found myself being sucked into it, buying patriotic wall décor for our home and embracing the American flag wholeheartedly. Living here day to day, I think it’s almost impossible not to eventually feel pride, even as an immigrant, in the love of flag and country.
As a British child growing up through the 1960-70’s I remember a time when we were also similarly patriotic. But then sadly it became politically incorrect to show your patriotism with pride. I put this down largely to the government’s determination not to be seen as discriminating against the huge immigrant population now present.
Looking back I particularly remember the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977, the whole country was caught up in it, with street parties abound. It was a time of great celebration, flags were everywhere and we were still very much a pro-monarchy country. This was followed within a few years by the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana and still patriotism was fashionable, plus we had a new fairytale Princess to make us proud.
But sometime in the late 1980’s Britain started down the slippery slide to a new outlook on patriotism and the rot set in.
For a start both the Scots and the Welsh wanted to be devolved, which you cannot blame them for, but it undoubtedly damaged the Union. All of a sudden there were no longer as many Union Jacks proudly displayed, as we all started reverting to our national flags.
Society continued to change and immigration levels were very high, as our generous welfare system attracted in many nationalities. They brought their own cultures into the country, to the point where now some areas have become mini versions of Poland, Turkey, Pakistan and India to name a few.
Now I am obviously not against immigration, but I do believe that if you want to move to another country, you should make an attempt to integrate and embrace your new homeland as I have. But in England this has not happened, if anything the British get more cynical about the immigrants every year and the immigrants become increasingly insular, forming their home from home communities instead.
Now it seems the only time the Brits get themselves truly worked up into a patriotic flag waving fervour, is when sport is involved. We tend to be a nation of under achievers on the sporting field, especially where football (soccer) our great passion is involved. But give us a big England match to watch and the streets will be empty, the St Georges flags will be everywhere and we will once again unite as a nation.
There is therefore hope that 2012 will be a stunning year for resurgence in patriotism, as the Olympics come to London. I fully expect flag sales to go through the roof and the nation to be galvanised into patriotic passion! But this is more down to our ‘tribal’ mentality of wanting to beat everyone else; it’s the Viking in us, I think, rather than pride in our country and flag.
My grandfather had a flagpole outside his home as I was growing up and he would occasionally raise the flag on it. But he came from another generation and had fought for his country and had immense pride in all it had achieved. But I cannot think of one other person I have ever known personally back home with their own flagpole. Here they are seen in every town, we have one in our yard and just like Mike, we also alternate the flags of our countries on it.
Without some heavyweight icon being brave enough to stick their head over the ‘PC’ parapet and make waves, I see no hope for a lasting patriotism revival in the UK.
As for me, I get all the patriotism I need now in the USA. I regularly stand with my hand over my heart to sing the Star Spangled Banner, or watch with pride as the flag flies behind a lone rider around an arena. And I look forward to a day soon when I will pledge my oath to this amazing country I now call home and become a citizen.
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