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As most Brits know, the U.S. national anthem is “The Star Spangled Banner.” The lyrics were written by Francis Scott Key and set to a popular British song, “The Anacreontic Song.” (Bet you didn’t know that bit.) It became the official anthem in 1931 and is dearly beloved by most Americans. So much so that it’s played all the time, which comes as something of a shock to newly landed Brits. (OK, not all the time, but a lot.)
Most sports games, big and small, will begin with a rendition of the anthem, a practice that started at the first game of the 1918 baseball World Series. As per the Flag Rules, everyone stands and faces the flag (or the music, if there’s no flag); men remove their caps and place them over their hearts while the hatless of both sexes place their hands on their hearts. It is considered extremely disrespectful not to stand for the anthem, although I’ve never been chastised for not doing the hand-on-heart thing. (No disrespect, but it’s a little bit schmaltzy for this Brit.) The anthem actually has four verses but people rarely get past the first. It might be an idea to learn the lyrics if you don’t want to stand out like a sore thumb.
A few other songs often replace, or are sung as well as, the anthem at solemn events. My personal favorite is “America, the Beautiful” (that’s the one with “From sea to shining sea” in it). Apparently, because it has the same meter as “Auld Lang Syne,” you can switch out the lyrics; let me know if it works.
“God Bless America” is commonly sung during the seventh inning stretch at baseball games, unless you’re somewhere like Chicago’s Wrigley Field and then it’s “Take Me Out To the Ball Game” (another beloved song). If you’re at a game when “God Bless America” starts up, don’t, whatever you do, go to the loo or remain seated. Bradford Campeau Laurian found out the hard way by getting ejected from Yankee Stadium when attempting to visit the men’s room during the song. Some claim that he was ejected because of his drunken condition, but the ensuing legal case established the rule that fans at Yankee Stadium are now allowed to go potty during the song. (I told you they take these songs seriously.)
Tired of listening to “God Bless America” (which he thought unrealistic and complacent apparently), Woody Guthrie wrote and published “This Land is Your Land” in 1945. You may know this one as it’s been covered by almost as many artists as “My Way”, including Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul and Mary, The Seekers, Springsteen and the Counting Crows. It was also performed at President Obama’s inaugural celebration in 2009. Oh, and Man. United F.C. fans have a version entitled “This Badge is Your Badge”.
One song that Brits will be sort of familiar with is “My Country ‘Tis of Thee”, if only because they nicked our “God Save the Queen” melody. Be careful if you join in on this side of the Pond however; if carried away, it’s very easy to inadvertently belt out the royal version and make a complete fool of yourself.
Having recently gone through an Olympics, a Jubilee, a Royal wedding and the safe delivery of a future king, we Brits are arguably more demonstrative about our patriotism, but we still have nothing on Americans. They take their country, their flag and their patriotic songs seriously and aren’t embarrassed to show it. Tittering, rolling eyes and other British reactions to such emotive displays are deeply disrespectful and if you get a beer poured on your head while sitting through the anthem at a baseball game, don’t say I didn’t warn you!
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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.