Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Secret allegiance to the flag

Many Germans, it is safe to say, have a bit of a complex when it comes to patriotism. It seems they have a real or imparted instinct to self-censor any feelings of pride for country, to carefully exercise emotional restraint. International sports competitions, therefore, are a welcome relief, a time when it is okay to put out flags, wish for victory, have some pride. At a viewing of the Germany-Spain game on Sunday night, this pride was cheerfully on display. Even those without jerseys or flags managed to find something that approximated some combination or red, gold, and black.

As we walked around the beer garden, my observations about German patriotism soon became observations about US patriotism, which, shortly after that, became observations about myself: the inevitable progression. I'm not sure, but I think that most Americans would still have a special response to these flag uses (or abuses, as I teased my German friends). I myself am not a particularly patriotic person, but I found myself obsessively chronicling flag etiquette violations like some freak patriot.

For many Americans the flag is a sacred symbol in the religion of patriotism. I'm not really sure what this piece of fabric means to me – patriotism is certainly not my religion – but I have the same ambivalent feelings about it that I do about using proper grammar and wearing formal clothing – that somehow it is both silly and important, outdated and useful, ingrained in me and a choice. (ahh... Germans are not the only ones with a complex.)

As I realized during a conversation with friends about taxes and healthcare this spring, we cannot really live modern, integrated lives outside of a country; wherever we are, we are stuck behind a border, a flag above us. For better or worse. So the question is: Do you have a flag?

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