America, Britons, and Questions on Patriotism

Patriotism is a funny thing.

We were dating and it was The Native’s inaugural trip to America.  For a month I introduced him to family and friends.  For a month I became a tourist in my hometown as we ate hotdogs at baseball games and donned jerseys and cheered the local NFL team.  We ate our way through every local restaurant and fast food joint that is not accessible when you live across the pond.  And with fresh eyes that had never experienced the quirks and traditions of American culture, he would ask me questions about where I’m from and we would discuss and surmise on the whys, (“Why are there so many restaurants?  Why are there so many cars on the road all of the time?  Why do shop assistants speak to you for 10 minutes even when you aren’t buying something?”).  We would spend many car journeys and nights appreciating and laughing at what makes America America.  Because even the small things, even the restaurants say something about a culture.

He had heard about it, but the reality still surprised him.  There were just so many flags.  Flags in neighbour’s front yards, flags waving above local businesses, flags in churches.   In different places, in different sizes, but all saying something about America and her people – an obvious display of pride in her.  And while everyone may not agree, it is hard to deny that Americans, on the whole, are patriotic.  We love being American.   But that was a “Why?” I couldn’t exactly answer.  What has led America to a point of having such a sense of national pride?  Is it simply what it stood for (and still does stand for to so many)?  Is it the optimism that comes with centuries of immigrants flocking to her shores in search of  opportunity?    Or is it something that is just instilled in us?  Is it saying the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of every school day or singing the National Anthem before every sporting event can officially begin?

This summer has been interesting in the UK.  There has been The Queens’ Diamond Jubilee, the build up and anticipation of London 2012, and now a British male in the Wimbledon final for the first time in over 70 years.  There has been something different about this summer.  There has been something so atmospheric.  I swear if The Duchess of Cambridge gets pregnant this year the country will implode.  And I have felt patriotic – for Britain.  I have loved living here and have appreciated the history of and pride in being a part of the UK.  But it feels….unusual.

Yes, there are Union Jacks everywhere, but very soon they will be packed away.  They won’t be hanging from windows or strung across town centres.  The atmosphere will die and life will return to normal.  The Native and I talk about it and he assures me that Brits are patriotic, just not in a flag-pole erecting, National Anthem singing, Britain or Die kind of way.  Still, it is really hard for me to find traces of patriotism here normally.  I feel like I have to pull back layers of cynicism and sarcasm before I do see that Britons really do love their country and sometimes I wonder if they love it at all.

So, tell me – Why do you think Americans are so overtly patriotic?  And if Britons are patriotic, how?  If not, why not?   


12 thoughts on “America, Britons, and Questions on Patriotism

  1. Jeremy

    Think you hit the nail on the head with your last sentence: we are generally a very cynical people. I don’t know where it comes from, but what’s the point in being ever-hopeful when you know the weather’s going to be rubbish (and when it IS hot, it’s just too hot ; ) ) and the national sporting heroes just aren’t as good as we always think they might be. Sigh. Being cynical is actually quite debilitating. Might be time to leave…

  2. Meg Fenn

    This made me laugh – my native husband also comments on all the flags each time we go to the States. It is funny isn’t it! My parents fly the stars and stripes but we wouldn’t ever dream of flying the Union Jack from our house. However, when we were in London for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee my kids each had a flag and were waving in vigorous patriotic ferver. I truly think Brits are patriotic but they don’t show it the same way as Americans do. In fact they hardly ever show it, you are right, this year has been pretty spectacular for the British. Yes, they can be cynical – and this drives me nuts – but the nation cried yesterday along with Andy Murray and I think that says it all.

    1. Living Life as an Expat Parent Post author

      Definitely. I think it’s there, but not their MO to wear it on their sleeve. I think it might have something to do with how it’s perceived.

      I heard an old chap talking about the match with someone he’d run into at the supermarket and you would’ve thought he was Andy Murray’s grandad from how emotive he was. He so wanted him to win and was still caught up in all of it the next day.

  3. Monique

    Oh, this post makes me just a little sad — I’ve really enjoyed all the flags and British patriotic feelings on display these past many months. I didn’t know it was unusual — and you’re right, in a sense it *has* made me feel more at home to see Britain wearing its heart — or its flag — on its sleeve. I’ll be sad to see that packed away and replaced with the invisible wall of reserve I see in so many other aspects of British life. 😦

    1. Living Life as an Expat Parent Post author

      What I’m getting is that they are patriotic, but it’s just really different. I do think it’s often hidden, but that certain things bring it out. I don’t know that the Olympics will make them feel overly patriotic (we’ll see in a few weeks!), but The Queen seems to bring it out like no other. Perhaps we should encourage a big 60 +1 years celebration because….why not?

  4. Tesni

    I’ve really enjoyed seeing union flags everywhere this year. I will miss them when they are gone. They do make you feel proud to be British! I love my country. I am quite protective of it, and I get cross when I hear other British people talking badly about England. I am patriotic, but I don’t own a Union flag or even anything with it on. Perhaps I should, I love my country and I suppose since I know it, I don’t feel the need to advertise the fact to everyone else. I do laugh at the US for having so many flags everywhere (is that ridiculous rule – that if a flag touches the ground you have to burn it- true by the way?) but I also think the idea is very nice, and I think Britain could learn a lot from the way the US shows it’s patriotism.

    1. Living Life as an Expat Parent Post author

      I love having the flags everywhere, too. My in-laws hung a beautiful one outside of their house during the Jubilee and I was sad to see it taken down. I have certainly seen how patriotic Brits can be this summer and I really have loved it. It seems there are certain things that really bring it out, though? Would you agree?

  5. scribblefingers

    Maybe the fact that Americans had to fight for their independence has something to do with it? I’m pretty protective of England (not so much N. Island, Wales and Scotland, I’ll be honest! – but they get very defensive about their nations ;D) but I don’t really show it so much, same as the others here I guess. Maybe it’s because we didn’t have to previously, because we had a massive empire… well, “we”, I’m not actually British… But I get very defensive of American and Finland too! I hate it when people call Americans stupid 😦 I know for a fact that my family is very clever thank you very much! hehe

    1. Living Life as an Expat Parent Post author

      You really are a 3rd culture kid! Wow. And you could be right. It really is hard to put your finger on and I do feel that Brits are patriotic, but they tend to be much quicker at criticizing and making fun of their country rather than praising it, where a lot of Americans will sing America’s praises openly. Perhaps, it’s about cultural personalities and how that would be perceived over here? I once tried to explain the American psyche to a lady in her 80’s. She replied by saying, “I used to think all Americans were big-heads, but I understand why they behave like that now.”

      1. scribblefingers

        yeah I agree about different cultural personalities. Here you show love by taking the mic – but only a Brit can! If an American were to try and do the same, things could get ugly 😉

  6. Rosie

    Have only just read this, but found it interesting. I think that we’re perhaps just more naturally reserved as a nation, and prone to a default setting of ‘cynical’ – hence a broad sector of the population put their enthusiasm for the Olympics on pause until after the opening ceremony, because secretly we all thought it might be rubbish.
    It’s a bit like when you wrote about weddings – dancing down the aisle just doesn’t come naturally to us; we’re much more likely to shuffle up, blushing, and hope that our moment as the centre of attention passes swiftly and without too much scrutiny. But that doesn’t mean we mean our wedding vows any less. (Perhaps I carried that metaphor a little too far…) Sometimes I think it’s a shame that we don’t have that overt, exuberant joy in our nationality that Americans do, but on the other hand I think we appreciate it so much more when we do bust out those Union Jacks, put our cynicism on the shelf for the day, and celebrate the things that make our country unique.

  7. Rosie

    Talked it over with the husband, and he thinks that partly this has to do with America’s national identity being less complicated by its history – America was founded as “the land of the free, the home of the brave”, and has always been that (I raised the issue of slavery, but I think his point is valid – these ideals formed the foundation of the nation). By contrast, as Brits we’re quite aware of our history as an Empire, and the shameful things that went along with that, so we’re a little wary of getting too in-the-face of the rest of the world about how great we are and look, here’s our flag. (Notice how in the opening ceremony we completely glazed over a large chunk of our fairly recent history, and how it was a slightly uncomfortable moment when all the Caribbean nations processed in with little union jacks in the corners of their flags).
    We also have very distinct individual identities as countries within Britain,and many people feel their identities as Welsh or Scottish more strongly than as Brits. In these places there’s actually a great deal of national pride – flags and all – but for their specific country rather than for GB in totality. You only have to look at the issue of proposed Scottish independence (or indeed the great debacle over the GB football squad) to see that Great Britain isn’t necessary exactly what we’d like it to be, and we’re pretty aware of that. The states of America seem much more unified in comparison to the fractures along the lines of identity in Britain.
    (I have numerous times started to write an essay on American/British history but James has curtailed me, feeling that a blog comment was perhaps not an appropriate forum.)


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