This was written for a website in response to a question as to why the British had less “allegiance” to flags and anthems than the USA.
Remembrance Day, 11th November, Marlborough, England
National anthems in the UK are confined to international sports games, and in recent years the habit of booing and catcalling during the other team’s anthem has increased, sadly. But we’re not that much of an anthem country any more. When I was a teenager, The National Anthem (always capitalized) was played at the end of every cinema showing and every theatre play. By my mid-teens, this led to an unseemly rush for the door during the credits so as to get out before the anthem. But if you were caught by the first stirring strains of God Save The Queen (the Swiss use the same tune), you’d have to stand still. If you didn’t there would be public comment. I kept on walking once when I was about fifteen and got smacked hard round the head by an outraged man. Nowadays we’d call it “assault on a minor” and he’d end up on a register of offenders, but in those wiser days, I simply apologized and stood still. He would have muttered something like “I was up to my neck in muck and bullets for you lot!”
I don’t remember when the National Anthem disappeared from such events, but I’d guess thirty years ago. It will be played now if the Queen is present.
The flag is far less important in the UK too. You won’t find it in schools or colleges, for example. If you saw a flagpole outside (or inside) a house in the UK, you’d assume the owner was a football hooligan (English flag) or an anti-EU fanatic at best, or neo-Nazi at worst (British flag or English flag).
In the USA, public buildings have flagpoles. I was struck by how many American houses have flagpoles. I saw this crossing the Niagara River between the USA and Canada. A friend used to live on the US side, and it was noticeable how many houses both sides of the river flew their respective national flags.
One of Gordon Brown’s first acts as Prime Minister was to authorize and recommend the flying of British flags on public buildings. Poole, where I live, was one of the very few British towns that flew the Union flag on its town hall before Gordon Brown’s action.
So, I guess that while our nationality is just as important to us in the UK, we don’t have the same attachment to anthems and symbols as the USA. We don’t pledge allegiance to the flag or our country in school. We’d be horrified if someone suggested it. Yesterday I was walking through part of Bournemouth thinking about national flags. I saw four. Three were Polish, attached to grocery stores. One was Irish hanging from the windows of a house.
The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee has led to an orgy of flag waving, especially in supermarkets. While I understand Jubilee editions of Pimms No 1 and Gordons Gin, I think Jubilee Finish dishwasher tabs and Jubilee sliced bread is a step too far!