Friday, 5 March 2010

I pledge allegiance to the flag. . .sometimes, kinda. . .

The other night HRH came home from work with a colleague in tow. Truly and I were halfway through a taped segment of 'Extreme Home Makeover,' an American tv show in which Ty Pennington and his crew, with the help of the entire community and a volunteer team of builders, build a new home for a deserving family. When it comes to this tv show, the cynic in me takes a backseat. It's corny, it's sappy, but I love this stupid show, by gum. Because I want to believe that these people are for real. I need to believe that somewhere in America these everyday heroes exist and they make the world a better place to live in and they make me proud to be an American. It's like, 'Hey, look at them, they're amazing people doing beautiful things in this world, and they're fellow Americans!'

Anyway, HRH and his colleague grab some beers and settle in to watch the show with us. As usual, by the time the final credits are rolling, I've used up half a box of Kleenex. So I'm sniffling away and trying to mop up my wet, mascara-streaked face when the (British) colleague says, 'It's not a bad show. But you know what the problem is with Americans?'

'Uh-oh,' HRH muttered. 'Watch yourself, mate.'

'Okay, I'll bite. What's the problem with Americans?' Because everyone has an answer to this question and I need to hear yet another answer to this question.

'They're too loud and too emotional. Is all the Hee Haw-ing and Woo Hoo-ing really necessary? Why can't Americans just get on with it?'

'Well, we Americans are an expressive bunch. And you know what? Sometimes it's refreshing to see people displaying emotion,' I said. 'Sometimes a little enthusiasm is not a bad thing. Sometimes it feels nicer and warmer to get a great big bear hug instead of an air kiss.'

'Well, Americans go overboard. And what's with all the flag waving. Blimey, he had his own flagpole in the front of the house.'

'He was a veteran,' I said. 'He fought bravely for his country's freedom and he's proud of it.' Man, I am a dweeb.

'That's all well and good but a gigantic flag in your garden? That's ridiculous. We don't do that over here.'

'I'm well aware of that.' Actually, I think the Union Jack is the coolest flag ever and if I were a true Brit I might be tempted to fly that baby all over the place. But it's already been pointed out that I come from a flag-waving country.

Anyway, the conversation went on for a bit longer, and I can't remember exactly which distinctions we carried on making, but eventually it fizzled out and we moved on. To be honest, I wasn't really up for it because I wanted to continue to bask in the afterglow of 'Extreme Home Makeover'. I know. I'm a dork.

But I did get to thinking about loyalty and nationalism. And I wondered why I can be so contrary sometimes. For instance, if a fellow American hits me with that whole 'America is the best country in the world and the only place to live' thing, I get really annoyed. And I argue with them. And I tell them some of the things that really irk me about America: Republicans, the gun laws, suburbs with no sidewalks for walking, the religious zealots, the Dixie Chicks being denied freedom of speech, and those weird candied yams with marshmallows that some people serve at Thanksgiving dinner. Conversely, if a non-American negatively stereotypes my nation, I'm all over it like a cheap suit. I defend my country. I tell them some of the things I love about America: New York City, diners, bagels, the quote on the Statue of Liberty, the can-do attitude, and the optimism of the people.

I'm a passport-toting citizen of the UK. It's my adoptive home country and I love it here. My children are being raised here, we own a home, I've created a life here. I'm not sure if I'll ever return to America to live or not. And yet I'll always be an American. I'm not sure if my kids will really have that link with America though. Do you pledge allegiance to the country where you're raised or the country of your birth nationality? If you're half and half, can you be loyal to two countries?

As an aside, do other countries fly their own flag in their front yard? Do they hoist their nation's colors up on a flagpole for all the world (or their neighbors) to see? Outside of America, I don't think I've ever been to a country where I've seen it.


  1. I know *exactly* what you mean. I've had exactly the same conversations, about the same things, with the same kinds of people. It's always the same -- why are Americans so brash/crass/prudish/loud/violent/fat/stupid/patriotic/greedy, etc.. with never a thought for how that might be kind of offensive to us, even if we agree with them on many points. It's just as you say -- WE can talk smack about America but damn it if we'll let others who have never lived there do the same. Brits would be the same if they were trash-talked everywhere they went in Europe, to their faces. At least other Europeans seem to keep their disdain for the Brits to themselves and keep the sneers and sniggers directed at their backs, not their faces. I know the British pride themselves on being able to laugh at themselves but I think they'd feel differently if *other* people were laughing at them or criticising them. Hmmph.

  2. I have a group of expat friends here and we joke about "being beaten down". We'll meet an American fresh of the boat and wonder how long it will take before they are beaten down. After 20 years it's just easier. I have to say Obama has made it a bit easier.

  3. Modern Mother--I think you could be right about Obama. I've been in London since 2000---the Bush years were not so pleasant---on any level!

  4. Nationalism and its displays. I could write a thesis on this (oh I am, just from a Bosnian perspective).

    I love the unabashedness of the Americans. But wait until the world cup starts then you'll see the St. George's cross everywhere.

    Great post!

  5. Brit in Bosnia: Sounds like an interesting thesis!

  6. I really enjoyed reading this. I think it's a case of 'blood is thicker than water' . It's how we are with our siblings; fight tooth & nail but defend them to the death if anyone else outside teh family has a go. I applaud yr embracing of yr adopted home- the UK. It really isn't an easy thing to do anywhere & Brits ARE q reserved & don't make it any easier for you.
    I wish we Brits were a bit more enthusiastic. Americans are always so positive it seems to me. We cd do wth more of that attitude. The difficulty is when I feel low amongst Americans but feel I can't be (huge generalisation I know) Also I think we are naturally suspicious of friendliness & enthusiasm, assuming it's not sincere. For isntacne when American acquaintances here tell me how "Amazing" it is to see me, when I hardly know them. Always throws me a bit I must admit! Not unpleasant though;o)

  7. You're right about the Union Jack. It is a great flag.

    It's not really fair, is it? Being a Brit in America, I rarely have to listen to any negative perceptions of us as a nation. The accent seems to win the day on every occasion. Sometimes people ask me about the evils of socialised health care, but none of that personal stuff that you've described.