Size matters

Life has some inescapable objective truths. A much-vaunted lie-in on a Saturday morning will always be interrupted by something irritatingly unnecessary. Public transport will work perfectly until the moment that you’re in a real rush. And everything in America is larger than its equivalent on any other country.

I think the fact that things are huge in the United States was probably the first fact that I ever found out about America. Actually that’s a lie – I think the first fact I discovered, after watching the opening ceremony of the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, was that people flew around in jetpacs. Life doesn’t get much more exciting than that when you’re ten. Boston Tea Parties can wait.

But when you’re a kid in Britain, it’s instilled in you from an early age that everything – and by ‘everything’, I think I essentially mean ‘vegetables’ for some reason – is enormous. With brussel sprouts that are bigger than cabbages, and cabbages the size of snowballs that have been rolled through crisp and even white stuff for three months, America is truly supposed to be the land of plenty. The fact that cars and houses are bigger too is presumably as a result of a desperate need to transport and store these aforementioned vegetables once you’ve bought them from supermarketsgrocery stores the size of, say, Yorkshire.

Of course, while a few things are bigger than you’d get at home (I really don’t want to think about the genetic engineering that took place to create the aubergineeggplant I saw yesterday), most things are the same size as anywhere else in the world. Unless you’re eating a pastrami sandwich in Katz’s Deli, obviously.

But there’s one area where the United States really does believe that size matters. Forget your giant hot dogs, superking beds or 100 storey skyscrapers. After all, when it comes to all those things, there will always be somebody who’ll go one inch, foot or floor further.

But when it comes to the size of your flag, only the very biggest will really do for Americans.

Wherever you go in the US, you are confronted by the stars and stripes. I swear it’s easier to find purple squirrels than a street in Brooklyn that doesn’t have a single American flag hanging in it somewhere. Such pride in belonging to America is in direct contrast to being in the UK. Hanging a Union Jack outside your house there would be tantamount to an admission that you are either a) a card-carrying racistmember of the BNP, or b) the Queen. (*waves to the Queen, just in case she’s reading*)

But when it comes to public organiszations or commercial outfits flying the flag, clearly some kind of memo went out making it clear that any bonus payable to the boss of the enterprise would be in direct correlation to the size of flag flying outside the establishment. The entrance to the Midtown Tunnel in Manhattan has a flag that could conceivably be used to provide clothes for every child in Indonesia, and still have material left over for a couple of normal size flags for every man, woman and child in America. A flag flying on what appeared to be a 300ft flagpole somewhere between Atlanta and Chattanooga last weekend could have been used to cover up the hole in the ozone layer. And even your standard everyday City Hall-type flag seems to be bigger than most British villages.

Most of these flags appear to be made from one single piece of material, which is a pretty astonishing piece of engineering. A symbol of might, and a rallying call to Americans everywhere to unite as one under a single gigantic banner.

The irony is, of course, that most of these flags are probably manufactured in China.

Still, with the rapid expansion of that country and the equally speedy economic collapse of the US, that should at least make it easier from a logistics point of view when the red five starred flag of the People’s Republic is flying above civic establishments from California to Maine.

17 thoughts on “Size matters

  1. Expatmum

    Since I’m in the business of helping US and UK expats assimmilate to their new lives across either side of the pond, let me draw your attention to Flag Ettiquette. Yes, it does exist – I would add a link but a) would probably mess it up, and b) there are so many web sites explaining US flag ettiquette I didn’t know which one to choose. Very interesting though, and probably future blog fodder.

  2. Dylan

    Tragically, I was aware of flag etiquette – particularly how to fold it, or the fact that if an American flag flies at night, it’s supposed to be illuminated. So sensitive, these Americans…!

  3. Alasdair

    “with the rapid expansion of that country and the equally speedy economic collapse of the US” – as with that other well-known comment, the demise of the US Economy is being overblown …

    From what I can see, the UK economy is in much more parlous straits at the moment …

    The US Flag is indeed ubiquitous, but is that not part of the charm of the US ?

    Personally, I like the very early US flags – and the current flag of Hawai’i …

  4. Simon

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-wires/20070703/foreign-flags/

    A bit curious about something. I often detect a bit of ‘anti-americanism’ in your posts, and those of some of the other bloggers that are ex-pats. And, It goes beyond, and deeper, than jesting, a poking a bit of fun at the yanks.

    If you dislike it there so much, apparent by your constant knocking of americans, then why remain there? do you find america and americans that repulsive?

    just an obsevation. not meant to be disrespectful or start WWIII.

  5. Dylan

    You’re not the first to say it, Simon, and you certainly won’t be the last. Search the word ‘anti’ on the blog and you’ll probably find me defending myself on numerous occasions.

    I’m not anti-American at all. I married one, after all, and have spent many happy days here over the last 14 years (and the last ten months as a resident). The blog is meant to be an observation of the differences between the two cultures. But just as some things about America get on my nerves, so some things about the UK annoy me. Regard the stories as being the wide eyed wonderment of a man transplanted away from friends and family into an alien culture – the observations of someone coming to terms with life on a different planet.

    By the way, you should read Bloody Brilliant or some of the other great expat blogs from Americans transplanted into the UK. They may not like black pudding or understand roundabouts, but I’m not under the impression that they’re anti-British as a result.

    To the other expat bloggers out there – am I the only one who gets accused of being anti-American?!

    But anyway Simon, your comments are appreciated, and you won’t get Workd War III from me. Not this time, anyway!

  6. Gabrielle

    Dylan – I read this with interest, as I sometimes have to be careful of coming across too anti-British in my own blog. When I find something about living here that I really don’t like, I don’t mean to imply that it’s de facto better in the US, it just means I don’t like it. Period.

    Take the fact that I had to get a fiancee visa, then a temporary leave to remain visa, and in another year I have to get a permanent leave to remain visa to stay here in England. At £500 a pop, mind you. This, to me, is total extortion. I am sure, however, that it’s probably worse for people wanting to get into the US.

    So yes, people sometimes accuse me of being anti-British, but to your point, I chose to marry one so I’m not sure how you can get more pro-British than that!

    And by the way, many of the things that get on your nerves about America also get on mine. Like our propensity to own gigantic flags…

  7. Cocktails

    I think that many people are innately more sensitive to perceived criticism or negativity if its coming from a ‘foreigner’.

    I’ve lived in the UK for nearly 9 years now and am still cautious about how I phrase some of my thoughts about this country – just because I know that someone can/will always say ‘well, why don’t you go back home then’. And that will still probably be the case in 50 years times unless I suddenly lose my accent.

    Gabrielle is right. You can love a country, but not necessarily love everything about it. I certainly don’t love everything about Australia – perhaps I shouldn’t be allowed back in?!

  8. Dylan

    Glad that everybody else feels the need to tread the same tightrope as I do. Well, I’m not GLAD that you have to, but at least I know I’m not alone!

    Speaking only for myself, I know that I love plenty about the US. Having lived in the UK for 33 years though, there’s always bound to be things that just strike me as being new/strange/odd/weird/interesting. And that’s what I blog about.

    I know that certain things about the UK annoy me beyond belief. And if I was a resident of downtown Utopia, I’m sure that some things would still (and I use the English vernacular here) get on my tits. As it is, I pay taxes in the US, so I’ll just take advantage of that right to free speech and carry on writing…

  9. LolaBloom

    Carry on! Loved the post.

    Hmmmm….”get on my tits”…. does that work if a female says it? I got a kick out of it and know what it means but don’t think it’s one I could try using myself (blush).

  10. Lillie

    Delighted to hear about your ‘tits’

    I thought you’d enjoy watching this film from U Tube. It’s about an english boy moving to the US because “although it’s gotten bad press lately, it’s taken his fancy”

    It’s pretty funny!

    http://youtube.com/watch?v=NqD171d0VBc

  11. Expatmum

    Interesting discussion. I think it’s okay to slag off your own country (and Brits do, all the time) but when you appear to criticize another country, even if it’s your adopted homeland, it doesn’t go down as well. Whenever I say something about the US, (and it’s usually just laughing about the gap on either side of the toilet cubicle doors), many Americans think I’m automatically saying it’s so much better in the UK. Which I’m not.

  12. Dylan Post author

    Lola – a woman can definitely have annoying things get on her tits, don’t worry. Certainly not a blushing matter!

    Lillie – that video is hilarious. Not sure how I’ve not seen it before, so thanks for pointing it out.

    And Expatmum, don’t even get me started about the toilet cubicle doors. I’ve blogged about it before, and not a day goes past when it doesn’t annoy me. I’m sorry, that’s one rare example of where it’s objectively better in the UK!

  13. Alasdair

    Dylan – are you familiar, yet, with the American Cannibal Festival, in late November ?

    (innocent smile)

    PS I’m Scots, married to one of the few native Californians (she was born in Glendale, CA) and I have 4 daughters (who each have US Passports, and the 4th is about to get her UK Passport) – and I am very happy that in my garden here, I can (and do) grow various citrus, mangoes, loquats, rambutan, apricots, macadamia nuts, passion fruits, Muscat grapes, and tomatoes … just a slightly more diverse crop than back in Glasgow …

  14. Mick

    Lola

    If one doesn’t want to upset someone with the word “tits” one says “Thre’penny bits” 🙂

    Mick

  15. Alison

    I had to join in with this very lively discussion – I’m definitely guilty of appearing to slag off my adopted country by dint of being an Expat (a self-titled accidental Expat for those who would tell me to just go home!). It’s hard not to notice the differences and draw comparisons, some negative some positive (is it possible to buy less than 5lbs of grapes in a US supermarket for example?!), but as long as it’s done with respect, or a bit of healthy tongue-in-cheek, why not I say. I enjoy reading US Expats blogs about living in the UK, and while some of their scathing reports may make me bridle a bit I appreciate their honesty and their different perspective.

    Unless it’s about football of course.

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