Alternative Perspective

A look at British culture from an outside perspective and a look at American culture from an outsider living within it's borders.

Friday, July 01, 2005


Yesterday showed me quite nicely that even the hugely proud America is guilty of overlooking the importance of their national holidays. In England, when we celebrate the patron Saint of England, the mighty Sir George, slayer of dragons, we don't get a day off work, and we don't actually do anything.

No flag flying... nothing. About all anyone seems to do is complain about how much more of a celebration Saint Patrick gets. Personally I've long been proposing making it a day off, and organising a football match for the English team. About the only time you see flags flying in England is when there's a match on, and it's about as patriotic as we limeys get.

Whether or not you think flag flying is the hallmark of arrogance, or the height of national pride is of course up to you. I wouldn't do it myself, but that isn't to say I'm ashamed of my heritage either. England is after all a fallen empire, and while national pride remains, it remains unspoken.

Part of that is a result of something that makes for an interesting contrast between the cultures. Over here, someone who isn't flying a flag or speaking in support of at least the soldiers fighting in Iraq gets branded 'unpatriotic'. That and 'unamerican' are some of the strongest insults people use over here, always having the maximum impact and the strongest reactions.

I honestly think a lot of the outwardly patriotic 'look at me I'm flying a flag!' lifestyle is a result of social pressures. It's a bit like people being openly and outwardly heterosexual. Fondling women in public as if to say 'I'm not gay, see?'. Not that there's anything wrong with consensual public fondling of course.

I'm not saying these people are fake in their celebrations of American culture and nationality, just that they seem a bit self conscious about it. I do love America, so I better show it, because I don't want anyone to think that I'm not proud to be American.

Every flag is treated like the shroud of Turin. I'm sure the dos and don'ts of flags aren't that different to they are in England, it's just here people take them seriously. Flag protocol is very important. There are people trying to get a constitutional ammendment made that makes mistreating the flag illegal. While there's a lot to admire in all this, there is still that question in the back of my mind with regards to how honest the gestures are.

To get to that contrast I hinted about earlier, in England, if you were to erect a flag pole in your front garden and fly the British flag, it would probably be presumed that you were a racist. Unfortunately, the white supremists in England have done so much to taint the flag as to have given it that stigma. Of course, if anyone of any other culture in England flew their own flag, there'd be no social issues with it, but an English flag is consider by some people to mean 'F**k off back to your own country.'

Enough people that it's not flown outside our homes. This is of course a very sad aspect of British society in the modern world. Pride of nationality has become almost synonomous with racism, unlike in America where not showing enough pride is enough to make you a social outcast.

So when Americans wished me a 'happy holiday weekend' I couldn't help but smile at the inappropriateness of it.

Some people might have taken that as 'typical American arrogance' (something I might add that isn't typical of Americans at all. It's just very visible, and for the most part it isn't arrogance it's ignorance thanks to an education system that predominantly focusses on American achievement) but I just took it to show how far detached from it's original meaning the 4th of July celebration has become. 4th of July means fireworks, and cookouts... sitting back in the scorching hit knocking back cans of beer with family and friends... flying the flag and eating foods all coloured Red White and Blue... it no longer means 'celebration of defeating the British and winning American independance'.

Of course, it didn't really dawn on anyone that I mightn't be doing anything special this weekend. But why would it? This is an important weekend to everyone over here. 'Enjoy the holiday weekend' is just a different way of saying 'have a good weekend'. There is no real holiday this time in England, so I've no desire to indulge myself in anything particular, unlike the rest of the country. If anything helps my home sickness this weekend then, it's actually the fact that the true meaning of the holiday has been lost... just as it would have been back in good ole' Blighty.


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