Flying the Flag: American Style

(Fox News)

Flag day is on June 14 in the U.S. (Fox News)

The Union Jack has become incredibly popular in the U.K. in recent years. Where once us Brits would have felt a bit of a Charlie donning Union Jack attire, the country is now awash with bedding, t-shirts, footwear, high fashion, low fashion and everything in between. Marks and Spencer even launched their own range for goodness’ sake. And let’s not forget the whole “Keep Calm” campaign, which I have to say, is wearing a bit thin these days.

(Photo Wall)

(Photo Wall)

What you still don’t see in the U.K. however, are flags flying outside houses, so it comes as something of a surprise when we first set foot in the U.S. Indeed, some Brits have confessed to feeling a “bit creeped out” at the sight. We can stretch to the odd bit of red, white and blue bunting, but only if there’s a BIG occasion like the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee or a Royal Wedding. Over here however, it’s not uncommon to see Old Glory in glorious six-foot dimensions hanging right outside the front door of regular houses. Obviously they are everywhere around 4th of July, (American Independence Day), but many homes have flags flying throughout the year.

Should the mood take you, for a couple of bucks you can buy a bracket to attach to your door or house, into which a flagpole will slot.

In most cases, Americans who choose to fly a flag outside their houses are your normal, common-or-garden folk. Whether or not other nations agree or think it’s odd, these people are proud to be Americans and heck, it’s not harming anyone. Flag-flying and general love of country isn’t quite the neo-Nazi, skinhead thing that it’s often perceived to be in the U.K.

And flag-flying is very serious business in the U.S.; there are federal guidelines with “instruction and rules on such topics as the pledge of allegiance, display and use of the flag by civilians, time and occasions for display, position and manner of display, and how to show respect for the flag.” I’m betting that not many Americans are aware of how often they break the law either, “The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery. “ Oops. And even worse, “The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever. “ (Imagine the revenue that could be generated if the government cracked down on this.)

There’s even Flag Day (June 14) which was made official by President Truman in 1949, and must be officially proclaimed by the sitting President each year.

And finally, did you know that the study of flags is “vexillology” and a flag expert is a “vexillologist”?

Are you prone to wearing either the UK or U.S. flag across your chest on a t-shirt?

Toni Hargis

Toni Hargis

Toni Summers Hargis is a Brit who has lived in the USA since 1990. She currently lives in Chicago with her husband and children and writes about US/UK matters when not putting out domestic fires. Toni blogs as Expat Mum and is the author of Rules, Britannia - An Insider's Guide to Life in the United Kingdom, (St. Martin's Press). She has made frequent appearances on radio and TV explaining British things to Americans.

See more posts by Toni Hargis
  • Jude

    I’m American, and I’ve always found the practice creepy as well. And don’t even get me started about the whole “pledge of allegiance to the flag” ritual American kids have to perform every day in schools, with hand-over-heart… McCarthyism never really went away, it just became normalized.

    • BostonGirl

      Definitely agree with your point on the Pledge of Allegiance. Though it’s not a bad thing, people say it so much that you just get annoyed by it. I’m 14 and I figured out that I’ve said it over 2,000 times in my life. I mean, you don’t even think about it when you say it.

      • Jude

        When I was in school, what bothered me about it was that it implies a lack of trust: not only do you have to pledge to the flag, but you have to do it every day. Making children pledge allegiance to the flag (when they don’t really even understand what it means) is the essence of brainwashing, in my opinion. One would expect it of a place like North Korea.

  • Tracey Ritchie

    The only rule I had ever heard about the American flag was that if it touches the ground it has to be burned. True?

    • Sam Cole

      No. If a flag touches the ground, it should be picked up. If a flag gets dirty, it should be washed. If a flag gets torn or ripped, it should be mended.

      • kbpickens

        This is correct; according to the flag code (again, guidelines, not laws), the flag should be kept in good condition/repair. When that is not possible, it should be destroyed in a respectful manner.

    • Terri Croft

      Also it must be lowered at sundown, unless it has proper lighting.

      • Olivia

        The US flag is never to be thrown away in the garbage. If a flag is worn or damaged beyond repair, it is to be burned. The boy scouts/American Legion hold these ceremonies and the flag is folded and burned with dignity. A flag also must never be flown in the rain or at night unless there is proper lighting.

  • MontanaRed

    We fly a flag outside our house on federal holidays. I think it’s a nice reminder to everyone that the holidays have a meaningful origin and are not just random days off work. Interestingly, a friend visiting from France said she wished the French flag were flown more often in more places (this observation while watching the ultra-patriotic flag ceremony at the start of a rodeo).

  • Janna Howell

    Flags used to displayed only on patriotic holidays, like July 4th, etc. You see them much more frequently now, and like the article said, some people leave them up all year round. I think this got started during the Iran hostage crisis.

  • Grace

    I thought it was only a Union Jack if it was flown at sea, other wise it was just Jack. Yes?

    • Sam Cole

      No. The union, also known as the canton, is the top left quadrant of a flag. A jack is a small flag flown from the bow (front) of a ship. On a British ensign (an ensign is another type of flag flown from a ship) the Union Jack is in the top left quadrant of the ensign.
      The United States has a jack, it is a blue flag with 50 white stars. It is simply the union of the American Flag.
      On land, the Union Jack is usually known as the Union Flag.

    • dave_f_jones

      No Grace. The Union Jack is the National Flag of The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (today)The White Ensign (red cross on white background) is flown on all Royal Naval ships and The Red ensign (Union Jack in corner, on a red background) is flown on all British Merchant ships.

  • dave_f_jones

    I’m a Brit Ex-Pat, livin’ in the US for the past 12 years. I really like to see the flags flying outside of houses and public buildings/schools etc. It’s so patriotic. Brits back “home” (UK) should show their pride in the Union Jack, by flying it often, not just on special days, or, whenever the Government or Queen “dictates” that they may do so. A National Flag is an IMPORTANT SYMBOL, especially in the cases of The Union Jack and Old Glory (Star and Stripes) They are symbols of FREEDOM, fought for by generations gone by. When we fly our flags, we should remember all those who’vv served and given their lives, for the FREEDOM that we enjoy today …..

  • dw

    The federal rules about displaying the flag are not, and cannot be, enforceable “laws”, or they would violate the First Amendment of the Constitution; this was decided by the US Supreme Court in the famous case of Texas v. Johnson (the “flag burning” case).

  • x

    Flag “laws” apply only to display on Federal property. Otherwise, they are merely guidelines.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=500426050 Louie Neira

    While there are no laws, there are many ways to show respect for the US Flag properly, as mentioned in the US Flag Code. If you’re going to fly the flag, read up and show it proper respect. The flag is one of the few things that is considered an entity unto itself.
    For instance, and even though many people do it, it is considered disrespectful to wear the flag (not a flag-patterned garment) as an article of clothing or draped over the shoulders. It should NOT be considered a fashion statement or a prop. Of course, many will disagree, but there was a time in the USA where people had more reverence for their national symbol. Sadly, today it seems more like a marketing ploy.

  • Vivian

    The flag is not supposed to be out when there is a storm or severe weather out, but when there’s severe weather out no one wants to go out and take it down. The flag is not supposed to touch the ground, I think is one. A tattered flag that must be “retired” should be ceremonially burned. Cutting each stripe out individually laying it on the fire and stating each of the original thirteen colonies, the same with the stars, but instead you say every state.

  • Helene

    Growing up in the home of a Merchant Marine (my Dad), every Patriotic Holiday meant we put out the flag. (4th of July, Memorial Day, Labor Day and Veterans Day, among others I don’t remember right now.) It showed not only support, but honor for our nation and the people who serve it. After 9/11, everyone’s pride for the nation grew and it really meant something to fly the American Flag!
    Just found this: http://www.usflag.org/flagholidays.html

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  • Payton

    I’m an american and I actually own a shirt with the Union Jack on it. I also own similar apparel but I would never wear my own flag as clothing. I’m not sure as to why wearing my own flag feels strange but not another’s. I know in other countries this is even more popular (Japan I’m looking at you) and where I first saw this. I think it’s because to wear my own flag seems too much but for me the Union Jack doesn’t mean much of anything patriotically to me (sorry) and makes a cool design.