Tag Archives: stars and stripes

Public displays of affection

I can’t help but love the story of the British government flying the Union Jack the wrong way up at the signing of a trade agreement with China. It’s the kind of Basil Fawlty-esque commitment to getting things ever so slightly wrong that marks the UK out from the rest of the world.

Actually, it’s perhaps not surprising that nobody’s quite sure which way the flag should go, given that the last few years have seen the flag’s importance to the nation diminish slightly. With dubious right wing factions effectively purloining the Union Jack for their anti-immigration and – let’s face it – racist views, flying a British flag has become less and less common.

In contrast, if ‘loving flags’ was an Olympic sport, the United States would be the undisputed gold medallist every single time. If there’s a city block in New York that doesn’t have a single Stars & Stripes on it, I am yet to see it. From bumper stickers to billboard sized enormoflags, America loves to wave its charms in the air (and wave ’em like it just don’t care, I hasten to add).

But for some people, it seems, the Stars & Stripes just isn’t a great enough commitment to the holy principle of flag flying. Certain folk have obviously decided that they’re not truly making use of their fundamental right to pin their colours to the mast if they’re only flying the American flag.

At least, that’s the only explanation I can think of for the fact that walking around my neighbourhood last night, I saw at least five banners on poles outside homes, proudly proclaiming “Happy Valentines Day”.

Now, last time I looked, St Valentines Day was a private thing between two people who love each other. Sure, you might make some grand public gesture (although the sight of one person proposing to another on a giant screen at a sports game is enough to cause me involuntary wretching), but essentially February 14th is a reminder to tell your nearest and dearest that you love them rather than giving your postmanmailman, pizza delivery person and general passers-by a virtual smooch. Obviously, you haven’t seen the guy who lives opposite us, but rest assured that the last thing I want him doing is getting the wrong idea.

Clearly Hallmark et al have tired of creating new holidays, and have decided to expand into flag creation. Next thing you know, people will be unfurling ‘Have a great funeral!’ flags, or ‘Happy Administrative Professional Day’ banners outside their homes.

Rumours that a special bong-shaped flag is being worked on for Michael Phelps’ London 2012 campaign could not be confirmed at time of going to press.

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.